The pretty good thriller Lockout peaks with its first shot, which is the upper body of the seated hero, Snow (Guy Pearce), as he repeatedly cracks wise to law-enforcement types and gets smashed in the face — sending him rocking out of the frame — by a thug just off-camera. It’s such a clever bit that I’d have liked it to go on longer. When the camera moves and the plot kicks in — as it must — the movie loses its witty economy. Things get cluttered.
The clutter is certainly intriguing, if so clearly CGI that you wonder if it’s meant to be deliberately fake-expressionistic. Probably not. We’re in the future, where gumshoe Snow, who’s charged with the murder of an informant (also his friend), is slated to be put in suspended animation and stored for years in a pod alongside other dangerous prisoners in an outer space maximum-security prison. But like Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken in Escape From New York, he gets a chance to earn his freedom. The president’s do-gooder daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace), had been visiting the prison to determine whether Big Pharma’s coma-inducing drug was causing blindness and dementia. In the course of an interview, a wiry, tattooed Scottish psycho (Joseph Gilgun) with one sightless milky eye escaped, opened the prisoner pods, killed all the guards, and took Emilie hostage. Snow has to sneak in and do the Die Hard thing and get her out.
Lockout is yet another Luc Besson production (from “an original idea” by Besson) and is directed in the super-kinetic house style by two novices, James Mather and Steven St. Leger. Die Hard in orbit is a fun high concept and the fight scenes are edited with samurai precision — although it’s a shame there are no zero-gravity martial arts battles and not enough people get blasted into space. It would have been better if Snow and Emilie, when they meet, didn’t reflexively sling insults back and forth (she thinks he’s a macho prick, he thinks she’s a controlling bitch). The normally chill, deliberate Pearce wouldn’t be my first choice for a smart-ass action hero, but he uses his rather snooty physiognomy to excellent effect. And the villains are very engaging (the psycho has a much more level-headed brother, played by Vincent Regan), which suggests that generic bad guys in most action pictures could benefit from Scottish burrs. You can imagine them force-feeding the hero haggis: “Haurrr ya gae! D’ye like it? Ya feel na weel ya bastird, aye?”