"Lockout" would be little more than a movie version of a second-tier video game without Guy Pearce.
The irreverence, cockiness and bravado he brings to the character of Snow is almost electric enough to put this action film in the same league as "Die Hard." Almost isn't good enough, which means this tale of a rogue cop who battles impossible odds ends up more in the category of "Cobra."
It's the not-so-distant future and the United States has come up with a way to handle prison overcrowding: Cons are sent to a facility in outer space where they are put into hibernation to serve their time. This perfect system falls apart at the exact moment the president's daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace), is on a humanitarian mission to the space station.
A grumbling, authority-defying Snow -- who just happens to be headed to the prison for a crime he didn't commit -- is the only person who can save her. He wisecracks his way to the facility for some carnage and chaos.
What makes Pearce's performance so good is that he never takes this recycled story too seriously. It's as if he's winking to the camera -- that he knows the plot is as thin as the acting skills of the two main escaped prisoners (Joseph Gilgun, Vincent Regan), who are psychotic versions of Laurel & Hardy.
The pair might have been more inspired to act if the screenplay by Stephen St. Leger, James Mather and Luc Besson had featured even one spark of originality. Their formula -- wisecrack, wisecrack, killing, wisecrack, wisecrack, killing -- gets so old after about 30 minutes that the film feels like it's on a loop.
It also would have helped if their script had more consistency with Grace's character. At times she's a pampered mess. Other times she can whip the prison stripes off any man in the facility. She is at the center of the film's biggest unintentional laugh: A mixture of oil and toilet water is put into her hair to hide her blond locks. Then after all that mess, she's given a hat to wear. It's a magical hat because despite being the last living female on a ship with 500 crazed convicts, no one notices she's a female.
All of these problems should have sent the film spiraling out of orbit. But every time a problem pops up, Pearce is there with his wry humor. His Snow is an interesting enough character to warrant a sequel. Maybe he will get more support with a second attempt.
"Lockout," rated PG-13 for language, violence. Stars Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace. Directed by Stephen St. Leger, James Mather. Running time: 110 minutes. Grade: C | Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org
or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.