I know exactly what a Besson production will mean: high-concept action rendered as a high-octane cartoon in live-action, with a severe chance for martial arts. The French filmmaker’s name equals a style equals a brand. His aesthetic appears even when he doesn’t direct. His creative stamp supersedes all.

And so it is again with Lockout, a sci-fi action thriller Besson helped write and produce, leaving helming duties to feature first-timers James Mather and Stephen St. Leger. Not to discount their work, but their names aren’t as important as Besson’s. He’s the one who probably dreams up these stories in his sleep.

Set in 2079, its hero is Snow (Guy Pearce, Prometheus, Seeking Justice), an ex-CIA operative who’s as tough as he is a wise-ass — perhaps a little too much; raise your hand if you really think we’ll be referencing the lambada 67 years from now. Wrongly convicted of first-degree murder and espionage against the United States in a setup, Snow is sentenced to 30 years in stasis.

That’s a government euphemism for “frozen, with potential for brain damage.” Stasis is a popular punishment in the space jail known as Supermax M.S. One, because when those prisoners are “sleeping,” they can’t escape, riot or abuse fellow convicts.

Snow gets a shot at a reprieve when the American president’s daughter, Emily (Maggie Grace, Taken, Knight and Day), is taken hostage by a milky-eyed pickpocket while she’s touring the facility. Snow is given one executive order: Save her.

His response? “I’d rather castrate myself with blunt rocks.”

Snow does it anyway, of course; otherwise, we wouldn’t have nearly as many action sequences. One comes in the film’s flashback prologue — a futuristic motorcycle chase that suddenly shifts to the subway — while another recalls Jeremy Renner’s turbine leap of faith in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, now with fisticuffs. One set piece ends in a reverse version of Romancing the Stone‘s famous crotch landing.

But if there’s a film (or films) that Lockout most resembles, it’s John Carpenter’s 1981 classic, Escape from New York (in concept), and its ’96 follow-up, Escape from L.A. (in execution). One could call this one Escape from Space; Pearce’s Snow is nothing if not a riff off Kurt Russell’s too-cool-for-you Snake Plissken, but with both his eyes. They certainly share the mouth; for instance, when Emily consults a map of the Supermax ship and asks which way is north, Snow cracks, “OK, we’re in space now, so it’s not north, it’s port.”

Grace is such a lightweight, capable of two emotions, but Pearce clearly relishes the opportunity to play this sort of cornball, only-in-the-movies action hero. You know the kind: They can take a few punches to the face and brush it off as if they were gnats. Besson specializes in exporting them. —Rod Lott

Hey! Read This:
From Paris with Love DVD review    
Knight and Day Blu-ray review    
Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol film review    
Seeking Justice Blu-ray review   

Rod Lott

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