Lockout - Guy Pearce
Unjustly accused CIA agent Snow (Guy Pearce) is recruited to rescue the president's daughter from a futuristic orbiting prison © 2012 Filmdistrict

Guy Pearce is so much fun to watch as the cynically smartass secret agent Snow that he almost makes up for a generic screenplay and strangely inconsistent special effects in this near-future thriller. Asked during a brutal interrogation what happened in a certain hotel room, Snow calmly replies, “It was coupon night, and I was trampolining your wife.”

Unjustly accused of murder, Snow (his first name’s a secret) is offered the chance to redeem himself by rescuing the US president’s daughter Elizabeth Warnock (Maggie Grace) from an orbiting prison where she has been taken hostage. The 500 inmates there were supposed to stay in suspended animation to serve out their sentences, which makes no crime-and-punishment sense; to the ones who survive the process, it would seem as if no suffer-for-your-transgressions time had passed. Then again, looking for logic in a movie where the best candidate to rescue the First Daughter is an unrepentant accused murderer is sort of pointless.

A flashback to Snow’s capture features an astonishingly unconvincing chase scene that’s roughly as lifelike as a last-generation videogame. The movie also includes an endless number of horizontal blue-line lens flares, which have become the SF genre’s most annoying visual cliché. Done to death by JJ Abrams in Star Trek and Super 8, the effect is more aggravating than artistic.

Lockout - Maggie Grace
First Daughter Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) reluctantly goes into action-hero mode © 2012 Filmdistrict

An unpleasant slip-up results in the prisoners being awakened and taking over the prison, led by a sternly managerial murderer named Alex (Vincent Regan). The only inmate he can’t control is his hair-trigger psychotic brother Hydell (Joseph Gilgun), whose subtitle-worthy Scottish accent is as heavy as haggis.

Elizabeth is egalitarian enough to be outraged when she realizes Snow’s mission is to rescue only her, not the entire group of hostages. She’s prissily indignant, he’s condescendingly sarcastic — it’s kismet! How could any man fail to be impressed by a girl who takes a bullet to the leg but keeps running without so much as a limp, and who doesn’t utter a peep of complaint after having a hypodermic needle poked into her eyeball?

First-time feature directors Stephen St Leger and James Mather make some strange choices with the screenplay they wrote with Luc Besson. A collision between the orbiting prison and the space station has all the drama of a parking lot fender-bender. A spinning-rotor hazard brings to mind a similar scene in last year’s Mission Impossible installment. And a subplot about Snow’s secret motive to rescue an imprisoned friend named Mace (Tim Plester) who stashed a mysterious briefcase has a throwaway payoff that doesn’t even show us what all the fuss was about.

On the other hand, the movie gets laugh points for scenes like one in which Snow leaps from a roof but smashes against the next building’s window instead of going through it. When a voice in his headset keeps reminding him exactly how much time he has left to complete his mission, Snow forthrightly replies, “You know this counting thing? It’s not helping.” And when a fall ends with Elizabeth’s head at Snow’s crotch, he deadpans that “you don’t have to do that, a simple thank you is enough.”

Snow is such a likable and entertaining tough guy that it would be nice to see him return in a sequel. With any luck, it will be one that’s a little less by-the-numbers than Lockout.

[Rating: 3 stars]

Lockout is released in theatres in US and Canada on Friday April 13, 2012. UK release is April 20, 2012 and in Australia on July 12, 2012.

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James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.

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