If a futuristic space prison with 500 of the world's most violent and dangerous criminals cryogenically frozen was to somehow undergo an inmate revolt, who would emerge as the unquestioned leader of such an intergalactic gang of gruesome murders?
Why the Scots, of course.
At least that's according to the sci-fi circa 2079 action flick "Lockout," directed by a pair of Irish filmmakers: James Mather and Stephen St. Leger. They co-wrote it with producer Luc Besson, the prodigious if seldom proficient French action filmmaker.
The MS One is a hulking, orbiting jail that puts its prisoners in "stasis," or a deep sleep. (And you thought incarceration costs are high now?) But while the president's daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace), visits MS One to question its methods, a prisoner easily gets loose and soon the ship is overrun by criminals who immediately fall in line behind the Scottish Alex (Vincent Regan) and his more psychotic sibling Hydell (Joe Gilgun).
Two secret service men take charge of the hostage rescue - the hawkish Langral (played by the always interesting Peter Stormare, whose odd Swedish rhythms made him a Coen brothers favorite) and the more measured Shaw (Lennie James).
Obviously, such awkward circumstances can only be resolved by a solo, heroic mission from a reluctant, irascible protagonist. Ours is Snow (Guy Pearce), an agent who has been unjustly deemed a criminal after a mission gone wrong, but is given the chance to win his freedom by saving the president's daughter.
He's seemingly the last person left in a grim, briefly glimpsed industrialized world (the Oval Office has been lowered into a bunker) who still smokes and carries a Zippo. Clad in a T-shirt that reads "Warning: Offensive," he speaks almost entirely in sarcastic one-liners. We first see him taking a brutal interrogation beating and explaining his whereabouts to Langral as busy "trampolining your wife."
Though few of these lines land, Snow's relentless tongue-in-cheek patter has a mounting effect, like an annoying TV ad campaign. This is a brawnier Pearce ("L.A. Confidential," "Mildred Pierce") and if "Lockout" is meant as an action hero audition, he certainly has the needed charisma.
He's the only reason to see "Lockout," along with Grace, who has an easy chemistry with Pearce. They spend much of the film bantering competitively while navigating the corridors of the MS One, a labyrinth of "Star Wars"-like hallways. (Just what is our fascination with horizontally closing "blast doors" that makes us so certain this is the future of doorways?)
The cheap visual effects are so bad that you'll be wondering if you misplaced your 3-D glasses. But, no, the digital backgrounds of some scenes really are that undefined, the kind of work video game makers would scoff at.
Such deficiencies could and perhaps should be overlooked when it comes to B-movies, whose electricity are ideally fueled from raw immediacy rather than deep budgets. But in the case of "Lockout," the cheapness only reinforces the overall slipshoddiness and lack of inventiveness.
It's of a piece with the rest of "Lockout": cavalierly conceived, generically titled and derivatively plotted. It feels like a missed chance because Pearce and Grace came ready to play.
"Lockout," a Film District release, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and language, including some sexual references. Running time: 95 minutes. Two stars out of four.