If for no other reason than the sheer joy of watching longtime character actor Guy Pearce play out his version of Snake Plissken-cum-John McClane, the new silly sci-fi action film Lockout is worth your money. Directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger from a story by producer Luc Besson and a script by the three of them, Lockout plays out as slightly disappointing B-movie fare. After a botched mission on a futuristic Earth, Snow (Pearce) is set to be executed for treason against the United States. We learn as much from a very funny, very cleverly-framed interrogation between Snow and government officer Langral (Peter Stormare), who’s after a file Snow was given moments before the mission was botched. Both Pearce and Stormare spend the entire film competing for over-the-top acting bragging rights.

Hours before he’s to be killed, Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace), the president’s daughter, is kidnapped on MS-One, a maximum security prison…in space! Instead of sending a whole team of trained specialists to get her and the rest of the hostages out, they to decide to send in…Snow! One man against hundreds of crazy psycho-killers. Snow agrees to take on the suicide mission, but has ulterior motives, etc. You know the drill.

When your characters are making decisions like this, it’s hard to take anything too seriously. Pearce knows as much, and enjoys himself. He proves an agile-enough action star, taking on on a quick, hard and close-up fist fight in a bathroom at the film’s opening, quickly followed by a special effects-ridden car chase that rather gaudily showcases the film’s pronounced lack of a studio budget. It’s endearing and cringe-worthy at the same time. As one-liners go, about every other quip from Pearce hits, and hits hard enough to overshadow the misses.

Longtime Brit character actor Vincent Regan gets top-billing as the villain here, playing the smart prisoner on MS-One, the makeshift leader of the group who’s unfortunately saddled with an insane younger brother (Joseph Gilgun) who’s one wish is to rape Emilie. Unfortunately, Regan doesn’t seem to be having as much fun as he should be, while Gilgun produces an overabundance of on-screen energy that become repetitive all too quickly.

Pearce and Grace find a nice chemistry that elevates the movie above its slower moments in the second act. Their entire relationship is sadly under-written, but then so is the rest of the film. Grace, however, continues to prove that the day she chooses a role that requires she not be saved by a Liam Neeson or a Guy Pearce will be the day she showcases her charm and natural acting talent.

The charm of this B-movie doesn’t have the same longevity. Despite a solid set-up, a noble leading man and a radiant leading lady, as Lockout becomes as insane as it promises (the space prison becomes the equivalent of the Armageddon meteor of course!) it oddly becomes less creative. The visuals here are closer to Alien Resurrection than Besson’s own color-fest The Fifth Element, and the ending doesn’t offer the money shots entertainment like this sells itself on, perhaps another victim of a small budget. Luckily, Lockout has Mr. Pearce, a special effect in his own right.

Lockout hits wide release on Friday, April 13th.

Grade: B-

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