Rating: ★★★☆☆

Though the Grindhouse genre has been revived in recent years thanks to the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Neveldine/Taylor, there’s an arguably more valuable and entertaining period film subset which is in firm need of a resurgence; the post-Carpenter sci-fi flicks of the 1980s. Despite scant experience in theatrical features, directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger deliver the basic schlocky goods with Lockout, a rickety but fleetingly amusing sci-fi thriller.

Guy Pearce is one of those fantastic actors who electrifies consistently in supporting roles, yet rarely seems to get his due in starring ones. While Lockout isn’t comprised of the same artistic mettle as The Proposition or Memento, it is an unexpectedly decent – not to mention different – placement for the actor. Pearce is Snow, a wise-cracking agent who is convicted of a crime he did not commit, and is offered a chance for reprisal, if he can rescue the President’s daughter, Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) from a sophisticated space prison which has been overtaken by the violent, psychopathic inmates.

Sometimes, it is all about tone, and while Lockout has enough flaws to shake several sticks at, it is a film entirely in the vein of the silly, riotously fun John Carpenter sci-fi forays of the 80s, especially Escape from New York. Certainly lacking that same confidence of product, it is for sure a shaggy dog of a film, but one which works more often than not, thanks to Pearce’s gutsy, punchline-spitting performance, a breakneck pace, and most importantly, a keen sense of fun.

Contemporary sci-fi too often snatches the soft option, whereas Lockout, with its hardcore violence and coarse language, is a kind rebuke to that sort of film. It it utterly shameless in approach, completely direct with its intent, though unquestionably stymied by some ineffective technical work right out of the gate. An initial chase scene, for instance, as Snow belts along the highway on a futuristic motorbike, boasts some of the worst visual effects seen in any recent Hollywood film, and bafflingly, is quite inconsistent with the rather decent space-based work later on.

Get past this laughable one-minute scene and things pick up; the film is lithe and moves quickly, never lingering on plot points too long as Snow gets aboard the ship to rescue Warnock. The film deals well with Emilie’s own existential difficulty; as the President’s daughter, she is suffocated by the worth placed upon her head, when all she wants to do is help people, much to Snow’s chagrin. The two exchange vaguely entertaining banter as they search for their exit, though it does not always hit the mark.

One of Lockout’s more intriguing and indeed, horrifying ideas, is the punitive method applied to the prisoners aboard the vessel; rather than mere imprisonment, they are placed in stasis, such that when they are all freed during the mutiny, their mental states are erratic at best. As brothers, Alex (Vincent Regan) and Hydell (Joseph Gigun) are appropriately terrifying villains, jostling for control and yearning to use Emilie as a bargaining chip for their release.

There is never any doubt as to who will live and die, but Lockout succeeds because it delivers snappy, easily digestible entertainment, even if some of its exposition-heavy twists in the latter moments feel a little rushed. Nevertheless, we can see that Pearce is having fun in an against-type role, and he pulls off the muscle-bound smart-ass to a measure Carpenter would surely approve of. It won’t appeal to everyone, but to knowing fans of the genre or those looking for a silly, retro sci-fi, this will be just the tonic.

Lockout is out in cinemas now.

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This article was first posted on April 25, 2012