I still have pretty vivid memories of first seeing the poster for a then upcoming film that was scheduled to be released in 1981 called Escape From New York.
Perhaps you’ve heard of it?
Back then in the stone age of 1981, there was a great possibility movies you never heard of at all would suddenly “appear” before you either as posters (as was the case with that film) or via movie trailers. Nowadays, of course, we hear about, and sometimes even see clips of films as they’re being made. The element of surprise is, for the most part, gone.
When I finally saw Escape From New York, I had a curiously paradoxical reaction to it. I absolutely LOVED parts of it, from the clever storyline to actor Kurt Russell’s bizarre Clint Eastwood-talking Snake Plissken. But the film seemed to lose steam as it went along and I felt that as good as certain elements of it were, overall the film didn’t thrill me as much as I hoped it would.
Over the years, my opinion of it has changed, albeit slightly. I’ve grown to appreciate more of the film and realized, in retrospect, that much of my disappointment might well have been due to the film’s very low budget. The fact is that most of the special effects are presented at the start of the film while the rest of it features our characters running around dark streets that might well have been anywhere and, as it turned out, most of the city scenes were indeed not filmed in New York!
However, the good stuff stuck with me and when rumors came out that director John Carpenter envisioned making more Snake Plissken films, even one he wistfully (or perhaps jokingly?) called Escape From Earth, I was certainly all in favor of seeing that.
In the end Escape From New York proved something of a box office dud. Given its budget, it certainly made its money back and then some, but it took many more years -fifteen in fact- before Escape From L.A. was released in 1996. Sporting a far greater budget and the same lead and director, Escape From L.A. nonetheless proved a box office flop, earning less than its cost.
And that, it appeared, was that.
Until, that is, this year when producer/writer/director Luc Besson released Lockout. Produced and co-written by Mr. Besson, Lockout is, essentially, Escape From Earth as envisioned by him. Guy Pearce stars as Snow, a somewhat more gregarious version of Snake Plissken while Maggie Grace stars as Emile Warnock, the daughter of the President of the United States. The plot is a mild variation of both John Carpenter Escape films: The daughter of the President goes to an orbiting penal colony, the prisoners manage to escape and take over, and Snake…er…Snow goes in to find and free her. Oh, and the clock is ticking.
When I first saw the trailer for Lockout I was intrigued. My younger, more strident self (as opposed to the more mellow person I’ve since become) might have been furious that Mr. Besson (who is also listed in the credits as having the “original idea” of this film!!!!) would so cavalierly rip off another person’s concept.
Then again, the John Carpenter Escape property is, let’s face it, dead. Kurt Russell isn’t as young as he was before and I suspect he can’t pull off the character of Snake Plissken anymore (there was talk, by the way, of a remake of Escape From New York with new actors in the central roles, so obviously the studios already feel that Mr. Russell may be too old for the part). And John Carpenter, as big a cult movie director as he is, hasn’t made a “big” feature in a very, very long time…and I suspect studios aren’t exactly lining up to front him big money to do another Escape movie.
So when Mr. Besson and his “original” story idea for the film Lockout appeared, I couldn’t be too terribly upset. In fact, I was hoping that Mr. Besson and company captured some of the Escape magic -the good stuff versus the bad- and made some mindless piece of entertainment that I could sit back to and enjoy.
However, early reviews of the film were not very positive. In fact, most of the reviews I read were quite negative (the film scored an unimpressive 37% positive among critics and an almost equal 40% positive among audiences at Rottentomatoes.com).
Still, I wanted to see it. Yesterday, I finally got the chance.
Long story short (if that’s possible at this point): Lockout is a mediocre film. If you’re curious to see someone else’s take on the Escape films, you won’t come away impressed with what’s here, but neither do I think you’ll be begging for the pain to go away.
Guy Pearce is mostly good in the role of Snow, but I felt at times he wasn’t terribly invested in his role. He appeared to be…and I could be guilty of mind reading here…uninterested in most of what was happening. His delivery of lines was one-note and it appeared he was doing the bare minimum required. It’s a tough thing to say of an actor’s work, especially one I happen to like quite a bit (he was absolutely terrific in both Memento and L.A. Confidential, among other films). Maggie Grace, on the other hand, seems to realize the nature of this film and, for the most part, delivers in her role. That’s not to say she saves the film, only that at the very least she stands toe to toe (and sometimes ahead!) of the movie’s actual protagonist.
Unfortunately, where the film mostly fails is in its all too busy plot. Lockout starts with a strange bust gone bad. The action sequences here aren’t quite as terrible as some have stated, yet not enough explanation and context is ever offered to what exactly our hero was doing here…or what it was he was hoping to get his hands on. Even by the end of the film, we’re still not sure what exactly was so terribly important to his character in those early sequences.
When the movie moves to the prison colony satellite, the jail break sequence proves way, way too easy. MILD SPOILERS: Essentially one man gets his hands on one gun and manages to free the nearly 500 homicidal prisoners in minutes. Did the people behind this penal colony not have any decent security designs? And did they really have to put the “Get the prisoners out of stasis” button only a few feet away from an interview room he escapes from?
Very silly stuff.
Once those opening sections of the film are over, however, it does manage to move along decently. It’s a silly affair, but I’m glad I was able to satisfy my curiosity without feeling the need to fling my remote control at the TV set.
Still, it could -it should– have been so much better.