(James Mather, Stephen St. Ledger, 2012)
In this era where the values and techniques of the old b-movie have become the values and techniques of the big blockbuster spectacle, only bigger, in this age when more or less every genre film is a b-movie, actual b-movies have more value. They retain some of the grit, some of the spirit of violence, sex and exploitation b-movies once meant in the face of the relentless money and polish you see on screen in the big studio blockbusters rolled out every summer.
Director Luc Besson has long enjoyed a sideline as a producer of such movies; generally corralling an International star (Jason Statham, Liam Neeson, John Travolta) as a maverick hero, shooting relatively cheaply somewhere in Europe and building around a single simple high concept, all directed by a young European director seasoned in advertising or pop videos, his action factory has produced a series of genre hits which owe a little to his own early work; pacy, visually stylish and slick, narratively simple, they only eliminate the odd poetry always present in Besson's work as director.
Lockout is more of the same. Directed by the Irish duo of Mather and St. Ledger on Serbian locations that all have the look of a disused power station and generic steel-corridor-and-airlock sets that could have come from any of a dozen sci-fi tv shows or movies from the last three decades, it stars Guy Pearce as Snow, an agent framed for murder and espionage who is given a last chance before he spends the rest of his life in "stasis" on an orbiting satellite-cum-prison. That prison is in the hands of the violent inmates (led by a pair of colourful, psychotic Glaswegian brothers, nicely capitalising on that cities uniquely aggressive accent and played with menace and wit by Joseph Gilgun and Vincent Regan) who unknowingly have the presidents daughter (Maggie Grace) as one of a group of hostages. Snow has to get onboard, rescue the daughter, and get off. Along the way he obviously has to clear his name, too, all of this against the clock as the prison drifts towards earth and oblivion.
The premise may be derivative and even hoary - Snow bears a strong resemblance to Korben Dallas, Bruce Willis' hero from Besson's The Fifth Element, and the story has an awful lot of John Carpenter in it's DNA - but the treatment is pacy, funny and grubbily stylish. The script is filled with zingy one-liners which Pearce utters with obvious relish and superbly world-weary timing. At times it reaches a near Shane Black level of fatalistic verbal comedy, even while the rest of the dialogue - the exposition and some clumsy character development - is dull and perfunctory.
The action is mixed; some solidly suspenseful sequences (Snow is appealingly physically vulnerable for a modern action hero) jostle with messily edited fight scenes, all visceral impact and little visual coherence, but Pearce carries it throughout, and the pace never let's you consider its flaws too deeply.
A proper, down and dirty b-movie then, fast, furious, frenetic, and tremendous fun throughout, even if it won't linger long in the mind afterwards.