"No good deed goes unpunished," goes the old cliché.
And speaking of clichés … this hyper-adrenalized masculine movie about hardened criminals and a prison built in space is full of 'em.
Snow is a former government agent who tries to save a fellow agent. And for his efforts he's wrongly accused of the man's death—receiving a 30-year jail sentence on the orbiting maximum security prison known as MS:ONE. The space station prison is state of the art in every possible way—especially in the way it places inmates in a state of suspended animation known as stasis. It's a process that solves virtually every problem associated with prisons: "No physical or sexual abuse," the prison's warden brags. "No breakouts. No riots."
But not everyone is sold on the futuristic facility's supposed merits—especially human rights activist Emily Warnock, a feisty social crusader who also happens to be the daughter of the President of the United States.
Emily is concerned about the rumored side effects of stasis: aggression, psychosis and dementia. She also suspects that the company funding MS:ONE, an outfit dedicated to deep space exploration, is secretly using the prison as an experiment to observe the long-term outcome of stasis on humans.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see where this is going.
Emily zips out to MS:ONE on an investigative mission. But her interview with a particularly virulent Irish criminal named Hydell goes horribly—and predictably—awry. Hydell escapes. And with one press of a button, all 497 of MS:ONE's inmates find themselves suddenly free.
Hydell's slightly less volatile older brother Alex assumes control of the station—unaware of that one of his hostages is the president's daughter. Meanwhile, Secret Service head honcho Scott Langral frets that he can't get an assault team to the orbital prison fast enough.
That's when Agent Harry Shaw suggests an alternative extraction strategy: Put Snow on the job. If he rescues Emily, he can win back his freedom.
Initially, Snow isn't the least bit concerned with rescuing Emily. But when Shaw tells him that his friend Mace (who was arrested for accidentally shooting a cop) is in the same prison, Snow changes his mind and decides to save both of them. In doing so, he repeatedly puts his life on the line. And a strong bond forms between him and Emily as they try to stay alive and get away.
When it becomes apparent that the escape pod he leads Emily to can only hold one person, Snow doesn't hesitate in offering it to her—even going so far as lying to convince her to take it. (The fib's not the positive part here, of course; it's the sacrificial part that's a decent example of the biblical principle of someone laying down his life for a friend.)
Emily is made of stout stuff too, and she repeatedly shows her spunky mettle. The escape pod jettisons, but Emily's not on it. She tells Snow that if she leaves, there's nothing to stop her father from destroying the prison and everyone on it, and she's determined to rescue as many of the hostages as possible. As mentioned, Emily also cares deeply—at least initially—about the welfare of the prisoners.
Emily sarcastically describes Snow's willingness to sacrifice for others as his "standards of sainthood." Mace says a nun at his Catholic school told him "angels cry" when people do "bad things."
That nun was in the middle of disciplining him for exposing himself in public. We hear prisoners commenting on homosexual attraction and sex. Snow spits out a line about foreplay after performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Emily. And there is other sarcastic, sexually tinged banter as well, some delivered at the expense of a man's wife. When Emily's hand inadvertently ends up near his crotch, Snow says, "A simple thank you is enough."
Snow and Emily ponder whether they might have a successful romantic relationship, and Emily says it depends on how good Snow is in bed. She wears a sometimes revealing tank top for most of the film, and there's talk about someone getting a "boob job."
Emily mistakenly thinks Snow is assaulting her at one point. But Hydell actually does try. In her initial interview with him, he leers and makes suggestive comments.
That's the least of it, though. Among the film's most problematic scenes are two in which Hydell attempts to assault Emily. He crawls on top of her, only to be yanked off by Alex. And Emily fights him the second time, combining aerosol and a lighter to badly burn his face. It's not enough to stop him. He catches her and is about to stab and (presumably) rape her when Snow blocks the plunging knife blade with his bare hand.
As the violence escalates—and keeps on escalating—we see victims die by way of gunfire in various firefights, stabbings, and massive explosions both on Earth and in space. Frenetic fistfights and melees occur frequently too, with combatants regularly slamming one another's heads and bodies into various hard surfaces. Two unfortunates find themselves in airlocks that expose them to space; they instantly die.
Snow has a penchant for taking really hard falls. An example: He unsuccessfully tries to jump between two buildings, hits a window, plunges toward the ground, then bounces off a mattress on top of a dumpster before landing with a thud on the concrete. His interrogation by Langral's lackeys in the opening scene involves them repeatedly hitting his face, leaving him bruised and bloodied.
To get his hands on Emily, Hydell shoots and kills another woman. Indeed, he's a trigger-happy, bloodthirsty psychopath who'd sooner kill you than look at you. One particularly nasty scene involves him methodically shooting and killing the remaining hostages as Emily and Snow watch and listen via video monitor. Alex also shoots several technicians when they can't perform the commands he gives them quickly enough.
Snow puts an explosive collar around a man's neck. We don't see the ensuing decapitation when it goes off, but we briefly glimpse the headless body. A Secret Service agent protecting Emily commits suicide by putting a gun to his head. (It's a sacrificial choice he makes to save Emily's life by preserving the little oxygen left in an airtight room.) A morgue holds a dead man with half of his skull removed.
Emily is hurt in Hydell's initial escape, and her wound bleeds throughout much of the film. Snow tends to it at one point, but further action reopens it. Snow also pushes a needle into Emily's eye to inject chemicals into her brain. (We see the tip begin to push against the eyeball's surface.) After the injection, Emily has a seizure. Snow also punches Emily in the mouth, giving her a fat, bloody lip that he says will make her look more authentic as they try to impersonate prisoners. Later she returns the favor.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Snow smokes in several scenes. And Shaw chastises him for his nicotine habit, saying, "Nobody smokes anymore, Snow." While cleaning Emily's wound, Snow takes a swig from the bottle (of rubbing alcohol?) he's using. He injects Emily with two different drugs in an attempt to revive her after she suffocates from nitrogen poisoning.
Langral takes an unnamed pill at a stressful moment.
There's lots of at talk about Lockout being a take on Taken. I say this is Die Hard in space—with a few more special effects. Just like Bruce Willis' iconic, profane hero John McClane in that famous franchise, actor Guy Pearce sardonically and systematically seeks to outwit the platoon of nasty goons who eventually figure out they've got the president's daughter onboard.
Self-sacrificial heroism is an important theme here. Emily's dedicated Secret Service agent ends up paying the ultimate price for being brave. Snow takes a pretty potent pounding in the process. As does Emily, for that matter—especially as she tries to fend off her rapacious nemesis, the truly creepy Hydell. And so do we, as we watch Hydell wreak considerable havoc, making frequent, murderous contributions to the film's ever-mounting body count.
The MPAA's raters decided that the film's nonstop violence—and profanity and sexual content—never blasts past PG-13 boundaries.
But they say nothing about how relentless it all is.