'Lockout': Guy Pearce Is Whomped, and Whomped Again

Snow's route to justice is predictably outrageous and often entertaining.


Director: James Mather, Stephen St. Leger
Cast: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stomare, Lennie James, Vincent Reagan, Joseph Gilgun
Rated: PG-13
Studio: FilmDistrict
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-04-20 (General release)

"I don't like hurting you," snarls Langral (Peter Stormare). His interrogatee, the repeatedly whomped and bruised and bloodied Snow (Guy Pearce), has a ready and aptly snarky answer, another question: "Is that why you have him do it?" Whomp.

This start to Lockout is promising. As it introduces a character you've seen before, whether he's named Sam Spade or Snake Plissken or Frank Martin. He expects to be battered and beleaguered and he can take it, because he knows he's smarter than the guy delivering his whomps (or, more likely, ordering their delivery) and that intelligence (or wiliness) will win in the end.

That this end takes some time to come can be dreadful or fine, depending on whether the mechanics leading to it are as smart as the cool guy hero. In this case, with writer-producer Luc Besson on board, the mechanics are pretty sweet. First, that first scene, which consists primarily of close-up shots of Snow being knocked out of frame. When the camera cuts to Langral or peeps down on the room more generally so you can see the whomper nearby, the space is clearer, but not because you need it to be. You know the lay of this land as soon as you see Snow's face, a veritable map of pain, ennui, and cunning. He will be hit, in this scene and others, and by the end of the film he will bring forceful justice to those who abuse him -- or else some suitable and eminently deserving stand-ins.

Snow's route to this justice is predictably outrageous and often entertaining. It's 2079, you see, and in this gnarly future, bad guys aren't just locked up, they're shipped out to a supermax prison in space, to a rather far, far away Guantánamo named MS-1. Here they're not only kept in teeny boxes, but they're knocked out (see Demolition Man, where the other scary detail about the future was Dan Cortese as a torch singer for the universe's only restaurant franchise, Taco Bell). This reduces fighting, raping, and smuggling within the prison and also allows the government to use inmates as "guinea pigs" for various Dr. Mengele-style experiments.

This last phrasing is uttered by Emilie (Emily Grace), the very do-gooding daughter of the US President Warnock (Peter Hudson), who has signed off on these technically illegal practices. Emilie, pure of heart and blond and lovely, doesn't know he's done this and so, as the film begins, she's landing at MS-1, where she means to interview inmates about aftereffects of the drugging and other aspects of their treatment at the facility. One of these interviews, with the scrawny and prodigiously tattooed Alex (Vincent Regan), goes very wrong. Though he seems dim and addled, he's angry enough -- and the MS-1 staff is arrogant enough, as they always are in these situations -- so he escapes the interview room, with a gun, and ensures the release of all the other 496 inmates and take everyone else hostage.

Before you can say Alien³, the inmates are running the prison and the president is on the line. You know what comes next: Snow is assigned to rescue Emilie. Though she believes he should also be rescuing other hostages, say, the staff doctors who've been conducting monstrous experiments (skulls broken open, bodies dissected), Snow stays pretty much on mission, except when he doesn’t. That is, he has his own ulterior reason for infiltrating MS-1, which involves tracking down a prisoner who was Snow's colleague, who has important information concerning Snow's own case -- the one that had Snow, a former CIA operative, being hammered by Langral's minion at film's start.

Such details are what they are in such films, and Lockout treats them as such. That is, it trots through them while on the way to its main interest, which is not Snow's backstory, his ethical foundation or even his evolving romance with Emilie, but rather, his awesome capacity to kick ass. He has some generic targets lined up, including the completely psychotic Alex and his older, slightly more thoughtful brother, Hydell (Joseph Gilgun), also incarcerated at MS-1.

The ongoing facing off between these frankly feeble bad guys and Snow (who has Emilie with him for the bulk of the escapade, for a few minutes passing as a boy prisoner) offers repeated opportunities for Snow to break heads and scurry around in vents and hallways. This basic plot is made even more basic when an additional ticking bomb angle is introduced: MS-1 is "unstable" (No kidding!) and is on a collision course toward earth, resurrecting the specters of Jerry Bruckheimer and yes, Bruce Willis, just in case you'd forgotten his many versions of the guy Pearce is playing here.

If Lockout means for you to remember the versions you’ve seen before, of Snow and itself, it's not lazy about it. Slammed together with fast cuts that leave out explanations and action that might be helpful in another movie, it's propulsive and even respectful. It knows you'll keep up, and when it does give away big fat clues, it does so as a joke (a couple of handwritten "secret" notes might as well be shouted out loud, they're so un-secret). The chase and action scenes, like the rooms and levels on MS-1, are both obvious and abstract. Snow is that too, a tough guy and an emblem of tough-guyness.


This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.