January 22, 2018

Posted April 28, 2012 by D. K. Holm

What American film reviewers seem uneasy about admitting each time another Luc Besson action film comes along is that his Hollywoodized thrillers are in fact better than their U. S. inspirations. Besson is viewed as mostly inactive as a director, but in fact he comes out with a new movie every two years or so, after a hiatus between 1999 and 2005, and he has the new biopic about Aung San Suu Kyi (The Lady) due shortly. But most of Besson’s energies do go into producing, to the tune of 108 films so far and counting, among them action hits such as the Taxiseries, Kiss of the DragonTaken, the Transporterseries, Columbiana, and many more.1 He seems to be a one-man studio system, but in essence, like Lars von Trier, he has simply seized the means of production for himself. Through his producing hand he has so influenced both other action directors and the tone of the action film that newcomers such as the pair Neveldine and Taylor (the Crank films) now mimic Besson rather than American action filmmakers such as Michael Bay, F. Gary Gray, or Peter Berg, whose films are usually visually incoherent and confusing. Besson’s films are almost always crystal clear and user friendly. In addition, the Besson films come from a European blend of leftism and anarco-anti-bureaucratism rather than the easy right wing simpleism of standard American law and order genres. Apparently, American reviewers can’t stand that.

A Besson film, like a Corman film, must contain certain components. An insouciant masculine hero good at martial arts – though sometimes there is a great action heroine. A swarthy villain of pond scum intelligence, inspired perhaps by the violent ruthless but comical bad guys of RoboCop, the breed’s ne plus ultra. A tall willowy Euro-Model type who is in extreme danger.

The same holds true forLockout. The story begins in the future. In a lively beginning, an operative named Snow (a buff and appealing Guy Pearce) is under interrogation by Langral (Peter Stormare) over an incident that is flashbacked during the sequence. Suffice it to say someone died and Snow is blamed. He is about to be put into suspended animation and shipped to an orbiting prison colony. Already there, however, is the President’s do-gooder daughter, Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace), commanding a fact-finding tour to see if the prisoners are abused by the suspended animation and other factors. Unfortunately, while there she and her team are taken hostage during a prison break. So Snow ends up going to the orbiting prison anyway, though now as a savior.

Lockout has elements and tones and allusions to numerous other films, such as OutlandThe Matrix, and even the character Hawk from the Spencer novels and TV adaptations. But what the reviewers are attacking in Lockout more than anything is that the film is so obviously based on John Carpenter’sEscape from New York. What they seem unwilling to say is that the Besson-produced version is so much better. Or that Lockout is obviously a parody.

Pearce is perfect as a parody of the Bruce Willis style of action hero. The action scenes, as realized by director James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, are also clever and amusing in the manner that we have come to expect from Besson. And frankly, Lockout is actually better than Escape from New York. The “original” had a lugubrious pace, some bad casting choices, and anyway it was itself a parody of the prison genre, with Kurt Russell doing a Clint Eastwood impersonation. I still like Carpenter and his work, but in comparison to Lockout it now seems dated, tame, and slow-witted. And I can’t wait forLockout 2.

1 Besson has also produced Woody Allen films, and odd ones such as Color Me Kubrick.