Though I suppose an increase in volume would make Whedon & Company's products a little less special. Maybe it's best to keep them rare and precious, to place them in a basement in a creepy old cabin somewhere and wait to see what the next group of unsuspecting passersby picks up first. They won't know what hit 'em. But they'll be awfully glad it did all the same.
Meanwhile, something terrible is happening in space. Oh, no, it's not that the president's daughter has been kidnapped by rioting inmates in a state-of-the-art space prison, it's that an actor like Guy Pearce — who cuts such a strong figure in fare as varied as L.A. Confidential, Memento, and The King's Speech — is stuck doing C-grade muck like the new sci-fi actioner Lockout instead of the classy leading man roles he one seemed destined for. But, alas here Lockout is, so I suppose we owe Mr. Pearce the courtesy of talking about it a little. (Though really it's going to seem more like a discourtesy.)
Lockout, produced by Luc Besson, master of stylized French schlock (still love you though, Fifth Element), and directed by Stephen St. Leger and James Mather, who also wrote the script, does indeed involve the aforementioned space prison and the idealistic daughter (Maggie Grace) of a trembling and ineffectual POTUS. The year is, I dunno, 2075 or something, and low orbit space travel has become a regular thing, with space police and a brand new space jail and everything. Meanwhile back on Earth, where everything's ugly and the president lives underground, Pearce's former CIA agent (or something), named simply Snow, is getting roughed up in an interrogation room, framed for a crime he didn't commit. Pearce is good at the tough-even-when-he's-getting-punched one-liner stuff, and there's almost a sense in these early scenes that St. Leger and Mather might actually know what they're doing. There's a crispness to the picture that begins to raise hopes.
But then the film flashes back to the night of the framing and we are treated to a speed bike race through futuristic Manhattan that, with its computer graphics and everything, looks about as convincing as a video game on the original PlayStation. Some expenses were definitely spared on this picture, it seems. Though, to be fair, there's almost something respectably scrappy about how bad these effects are, as if the editors and directors saw this and said "Eh, f--k it, we want the speed bike chase, so this will have to do." (Or however you say that in French.) At this point in the film, there's still something vaguely interesting rattling around the familiar story, a kind of respectable, if low grade, derring-do.
That spirit is short-lived, sadly. Up in space some idiot Secret Service guy smuggles a gun past the no-gun zone and a crazy Scottish inmate with a blind milky eye and silver teeth gets a hold of it and frees all the baddies. These crooks are the worst of the worst, murderers and rapers and the like, so the prison staff and beautiful blonde First Daughter are in some serious trouble. But wouldn't you know it, Snow, who's about to be sent to this prison for the crime he didn't commit, is just the man to do a quick extraction job to get the the prez's daughter, while also running a separate secret mission to clear his own name. So we're off to space with Snow, and in the ensuing loud, senseless scenes various things go right and go wrong and Snow and the daughter, named Emilie (but it doesn't really matter), meet and bicker and flirt. Snow wants this broad to pipe down, Emilie wants this pig to be more of a gentleman, and it's all oddly regressive. At one point Snow gives Emilie a shotgun to protect herself and a gizmo to find her way to an escape pod, but she can't work the big confusing machine and, we find out later, the gun wasn't loaded anyway, because what? Even during a prison riot one shouldn't trust a little lady with a big scary gun? Ick. (OK, to be fair, Emilie does shoot a machine gun, pretty well in fact, later in the film.)