‘Lockout’: Prison Thriller Looks Cool But Plot’s a Waste of Space

Guy Pearce powers “Lockout,” a prison-hostage thriller directed by Luc Besson. Setting it in space doesn’t make the plot feel any less familiar

A never-fail joke is to add the words “between the sheets” after reading out the message in a fortune cookie, as in, “You will find happiness — between the sheets.”

Movie producers must think the same is true for the words “in space.” Take the most tired, hackneyed plot, one that has been recycled time and time again, and just freshen it up by moving all the action to outer space.

Latest case in point: “Lockup.” With French film maestro Luc Besson aboard as executive producer and story creator, this tough-guy action film is mostly set aboard a large, floating, maximum security prison way up there in the ether.

The futuristic film, set in 2079, begins with a bang-up sequence here on Earth, in which a hard-as-nails U.S. operative named Snow (Guy Pearce) is being grilled and whacked around by a former boss (Peter Stormare), who accuses Snow of betraying his country. At the same time, the President’s adult daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace of “Lost”), is about to visit the prison in outer space to investigate whether the prisoners are being treated fairly.

Before you can say let’s get this plot in motion, the prisoners have taken over the hoosegow and Emilie and others are being held hostage at gunpoint. Snow, who is facing life imprisonment himself, is dispatched there via a speedy rocket ship on a solo mission to free Emilie. (Apparently, anyone not related to the President is expendable.) Snow has been promised that, if he succeeds, he’ll have earned his own freedom.

What follows is a fairly predictable game of cat-and-mouse, chase-and-be-chased, and multiple killings, all taking place in the cramped quarters and endless corridors of the slammer in space. And even as they try to outwit and escape the bad guys, Snow and Emilie question each other’s motives. Initially antagonistic, they eventually give in to a mutual respect and attraction.

“Lockout,” directed by first-timers James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, is for the most part a generic action film, but helped by a cool, pared-down look and a savvy lead performance from Pearce. The Australian actor manages to project a weary, been-there, saved-that machismo that’s highly appealing.

At the end, the movie optimistically leaves room for a possible sequel. That may be wishful thinking.