For thriller fans looking for an enjoyable-but-brainless popcorn flick, Mather and St. Leger have delivered a (mostly) competent Luc Besson actioner.

Despite a solid headliner in Guy Pearce, the underwhelming marketing for Lockout, which makes the project look like a direct-to-DVD experience, has been enough to cause a lot of moviegoers to forget that the film was actually developed by well-known thriller writer/director/producer Luc Besson (The Fifth Element and Taken). While Besson outsourced directorial duties to untested feature co-helmers, James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, the fan-favorite producer was still instrumental in crafting the Lockout story – as well as overseeing production.

As a result, it’s no surprise that Lockout features plenty of Besson’s staple calling cards: most notably a snarky and rough-around-the-edges (but charming) leading man, as well as some hard-hitting action set-pieces, among other things. However, do Mather and St. Leger successfully carry Besson’s concept across the finish line – delivering an entertaining sci-fi thriller that’s more than just the sum of its tried-and-true parts?

While it’s certainly not a flawless movie, or a deep exploration of character (as depicted in Taken), Lockout succeeds at being an over-the-top thriller with surprisingly high production values for a $20 million film that has to make room for a Guy Pearce paycheck. It’s not the most visually-stunning movie in the genre and definitely has a “budget” look at times; however, the project ultimately succeeds as a result of Pearce – who delivers an enjoyable, albeit snide, performance as government agent-turned-one-man-army, Snow.

Maggie Grace and Guy Pearce in ‘Lockout’

As with some Besson-produced projects, the Lockout story is pretty basic. After a government operation goes awry, agent Snow (Guy Pearce) is taken into federal custody on suspicion that he double-crossed one of his closest friends (and, subsequently, compromised the security of the United States). After refusing to cave during a brutal interrogation at the hands of secret service agent Langral (Peter Stormare) and one of Snow’s handlers, Shaw (Lennie James), the agent is about to disappear into the federal prison system forever – until the President’s daughter, Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace), is taken hostage by inmates while visiting an enormous prison facility orbiting the Earth. Snow is given the option of rescuing the President’s daughter in exchange for his freedom, an offer Snow initially rejects, until he discovers that the key to clearing his name is also aboard the prison installation (which is rapidly plunging into inmate versus inmate pandemonium).

While the Lockout storyline gets the job done – presenting an intriguing sandbox for Pearce’s character to kick butt and fire off snarky one-liners – none of the characters in the film are anything but single-note caricatures. Some moviegoers will, no doubt, be unaffected by the lack of development, but compared to similar entries in the action-thriller genre, it’s not unfair to expect a more rewarding balance. That said, Snow is a likable leading man (thanks in part to Pearce’s approach to the role); however, the audience is only going to sympathize with him because of the way he’s presented in contrast to the rest of the story: he’s innocent, anti-establishment, and honorable (in spite of his rough exterior). The same can be said for the rest of the supporting cast – which is either going to be a sticking point for moviegoers hoping for something character-driven or a relief for viewers who would rather jump right into the action.

This dichotomy can be applied to how audiences will view other aspects of Lockout – as the story, despite a pretty robust sci-fi future, doesn’t bother with a lot of world-building and instead simply presents information (there’s a prison in space) without really exploring the film’s potentially intriguing universe.

Joseph Gilgun as Hydell in ‘Lockout’

Every moment of the movie (both good and bad) relies heavily on familiarity with pre-existing action-thriller genre archetypes, sci-fi concepts, and staple good versus evil caricatures – without developing anything or anyone, once established. As a result, the characters (and story) aren’t likely to offer many surprises along the way – as the film merely follows the presented elements out to the most logical (albeit somewhat cliched) conclusions. Even the action, which is clearly the priority here, doesn’t showcase anything new and isn’t going to outright drop jaws. However, the combination of Pearce’s reaction to a lot of these moments of tension still makes for a pretty enjoyable one-two punch – even if the moments aren’t mind-blowing on their own.

Surprisingly, the film actually succeeds because of its heavy reliance on things audiences have seen before – since a lot of them are tried-and-true onscreen ideas. As an example, there’s nothing unique about Joseph Gilgun’s Hydell, an inmate responsible for most of the mayhem occurring in the prison, but he’s still one of the more enjoyable characters to watch. Similarly, even though the film fails to capture the scale of the facility and the sheer number of prisoners that are running around, the prison break in space set-up is intriguing enough – and presents an adequate foundation for some tense moments and modest-but-cool action sequences.

Lockout is not going to rival the explosive set-pieces audiences expect in Michael Bay summer blockbusters, but it succeeds at offering an exciting, if somewhat thin, adventure. While plot holes and one-note characters keep the film from being a clearcut must-see, for thriller fans looking for an enjoyable-but-brainless popcorn flick, Mather and St. Leger have delivered a (mostly) competent Luc Besson actioner – thanks, in large part, to an enjoyable performance from Guy Pearce.

If you’re still on the fence about Lockout, check out the trailer below:

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Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick – and let us know what you thought of the film below.

Lockout is rated PG-13 for for intense sequences of violence and action, and language including some sexual references. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)