The quality of a film can be gauged from how well the director, or in this case directors, care for their audience. Do they pay attention to details, or do they hope that any production and narrative corners they have cut can be hidden if they fill the screen with explosions and lens flare? Is it clear that they have made something they wish to be proud of, pushing for the best from themselves and their collaborators, or does it feel rushed and permeated with indifference? Unfortunately, it is too often the case that as long as the lowest common denominator of the audience is satisfied, there is no desire to achieve anything further.
Lockout is not a terrible film, certainly not as offensively bad as Wrath of the Titans or Battleship, but nor does it strive for a level of enjoyable mediocrity that could easily have been attained had only a little more effort been expended. That the plot is derivative is clear in even the most basic synopsis, as Guy Pearce’s disgraced government agent Marion Snow is sentenced to orbiting prison MS1 for a crime he didn’t commit, then given a chance to prove his worth if he can rescue Emilie Warnock, the president’s daughter, held hostage by escaped convicts on that same establishment.
Unfortunately, the usually reliable Pearce is saddled with an ass of character, smarmy and unlikeable from the opening scene, ill prepared and stumbling through action scenes by luck rather than any talent other than an unexpected ability to style women’s hair; in order to pass through an occupied area, Snow takes a knife to Warnock’s long hair to make her less obviously female, but rather than a hacked crew cut, the resulting coiffure is an elegantly feathered bob.
As Warnock, Maggie Grace is warmer, genuinely interested in the treatment of the prisoners and expressing concern for them as much as her fellow hostages until the final act, when it becomes apparent that her humanitarian visit was simply padding until it was time for more explosions, and her conscience vanishes as fast as the atmosphere as she leaves the airlock. The majority of the supporting cast, like the leaders of the breakout, brothers Alex and Hydell (Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun), are disposable stereotypes required to play one emotion until they die in surprisingly inoffensive ways.
Even taken as a lowbrow action movie, Lockout is lacking flair. Directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger have squandered the few original ideas offered by the script they co-wrote with Luc Besson on vacuous stuntwork and reprehensibly bad effects work. A car chase through the streets of Washington is conducted against graphics that look to have been rendered for a twenty year old video game, and the movement of spaceships is similarly unconvincing, hurling themselves around hairpin manoeuvres with no conviction of mass or inertia. Worst is the final evacuation, where spacesuited figures step off the orbiting platform to be instantly gripped by gravity as though they were parachutists stepping from an aeroplane before conveniently landing back in Washington minutes later.
The unique selling point is that the prison is in space, yet the majority of the film is standard prison film antics: guns and explosions are discharged with never a thought to the danger of hull breach and decompression death. Warnock has come to investigate rumours that the facility is a testing ground for hypersleep side effects as a prelude to a deep space mission, yet her discoveries and their implications for her father’s administration are forgotten as soon as they are revealed. While having that connected with the double cross that sent Snow to prison may have been obvious, it would still be more interesting than having the resolution of that betrayal as nothing more than a box that needs to be ticked before the credits can roll.