Thursday, April 12, 2012

Besson-brand action! James Mathers' and Stephen St. Leger's LOCKOUT entertains; Q&A with stars Guy Pearce & Maggie Grace

LOCKOUT, the new sci-fi/action flick from Luc Besson's Europa Corp., is good enough to make you wish it were better. It's got a go-go premise: The President's daughter, on a do-good mission to a maximum security prison in outer space (the year is 2079, as though it mattered), is of course taken prisoner, after which our "action hero" must rescue her. What? This plot line sounds familiar? Slightly, yes. Just shake a little Taken into a large batch of Escape From New York.

One half of the writing-directing duo (Besson also had a hand in the screenplay) -- James Mathers, shown at left -- has ample experience in cinematography and sound, while the other (writer/director Stephen St. Leger, below), is a relative newcomer to the field. They seemed to have worked together quite well and the result is a movie that, while it owes a hell of a lot to a lot of other films (to how very many movies does that statement apply?), stands on its own well enough to grab a lesser place in the firmament of exciting, entertaining action flicks.
What it does best, howevere, is to offer the world a terrific new "action" star in the person of an actor few of us would have imagined in a role like this: the broody, moody Guy Pearce (below). Mr. Pearce -- who came to fame way back in the days of The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Dessert, but then almost immediately began to play nothing but "downer" roles (L.A. Confidential to Memento through Death Defying Acts and the recent Seeking Justice) -- suddenly gets light-hearted once again, using that lightness to invigorate a role that could easily (think Arnold Schwarzenegger) grow tiresome via an actor's heavy hand (not to mention body and mouth).

Pearce, however, remains a very smart actor who understands quite well that less-is-more. He is so verbally dexterous that he tosses off his often-clever dialog with such easy wit and charm that you're his from the film's opening scene -- in which Pearce's charac-ter "Snow" is alternately questioned, then punched bloody, when his answers prove less than sterling. This could be ridiculous and off-putting; thanks to Pearce, it's funny and very nearly charming.

The actor has also bulked-up noticeably for this role (turns out he'd won a body-building contest in his early years: see Q&A below). He looks as good as he acts, handling the action, fights and derring-do with terrific aplomb. There's a whole new career in store for this guy, if he wants it -- which may not the case (see also the Q&A).

In the supporting cast is Maggie Grace (above), as that daughter, and if she is merely good, rather than as exceptional as is Pearce, it may be that the movie-makers, as often happens in the action genre, are not quite as interested in the female (except as a jumping off point) as they are in the males on view. Ms Grace, nonetheless is allowed to handle some of the action and even gets to change her hairdo (color and grease-quotient, below) during the course of the film.

As the movie's lead villain/crazy guy, Joseph Gilgun (below) makes a startling, scary impression,

while Vincent Regan (below) proves the more cerebral of the prison's bad-guy crew.

Back home on earth, we've got the good cop/bad cop duo represented by (not necessarily respectively) Peter Stormare (below) and Lennie James.

Basically, however, and aside from its two leads, it's the action and momentum that make the movie watchable -- and that also, finally, turn it into the something second-rate. Toward the middle and from there onward, there is simply not enough here that's new and different to keep us as alert as we ought to be. The tried-and-true is safe, yes. But refried beans, alas, do not keep one's film palate zesty and on-point.

Lockout (95 minutes, release via Open Road FilmsFilm District) opens tomorrow, Friday, April 13, at major cities -- New York, Chicago, L.A. and more -- across the country. To find a theater near you, click the movie's web site and then enter your zip code and click your choice for online-ticketing.


At the roundtable interviews of the two lead actors -- below are highlights from the Q&As -- both proved intelligent and accommodating. First up was Maggie Grace (of whom, once she had left the room, several participants commented that she was ever more beautiful in-person than on-screen), who looked stunning in a svelte brown dress with her hair pulled back.

Did you enjoy the physical aspects of your role?  "I grew up in Jane Austen land, so this was very different. But action film are so much fun to make!" In addition, she told us, "Lockout instilled a real love of kickboxing in me."

How were the sets to handle and negotiate? "There were only a couple of stages used, so there was a lot of recycling. And of course a lot of use of green screen."

Do you think there is some truth in this movie, in terms of what the world can look forward to? "Well, I think that, in most sci-fi, there is always a seed of truth -- and a warning. And we know, right now, that our prison system is not at all in good shape."

How was it to work with two directors on the same movie? "They were on the same page, so there really was no problem. It was like: two men, one mind."

Any talk of a sequel? "We'll see. People have asked for one, but who knows?"

Can you tell us anything about the upcoming Taken 2?  "Without giving away spoilers, its going to be very interesting. It's kind of 'inverted,' you might say."

Taken introduced Liam Neeson to the action film, and now it seems that Lockout is doing the same thing for Guy Pearce.  "It's great, isn't it? This genre needs these intelligent, grounded leading men like Liam and Guy!"

For his part Guy Pearce was less coiffed -- he wore jeans and a t-shirt covered by an un-ironed casual cotton shirt (usually TrustMovies' favored choice of attire, too). Pearce proved extremely well-spoken and eager to listen and respond -- rather than, as with some actors, answer any questions with a pre-rehearsed set of answers which do not necessarily conform to the questions.

You're really buffed up in this film. You look so different, noted one female correspondent. "I did a little bit of body-building as a teenager," the actor explained, "So this was something I was already aware of. And your body remember how to do it. I actually won a body-building contest early on, but never went to the the next level because my parents, my best friend and I were all supposed to take a vacation -- which we didn't want to miss." Then he adds, with a bit of humility, "I don't think I'd have won that next tournament, anyway."

You really added so much weight and muscle. How long did this take you?  "I only had one month to get in shape, so it had to be done quickly. But then, we had the entire shoot ahead of us, so I could just keep working at it. Plus, there was all that good Serbian food we were eating."  (The filming location was Belgrade, Serbia.)

Asked if he thought the sci-fi elements were on the mark, Pearce reminded us that many things we see first in science-fiction end up as reality. "The idea of a prison in space is probably on the mark, as well."

Are you happy to be doing a somewhat lighter movie, after all the dark ones you've chosen? (He smiles at this) "I don't know if I chose them, or whether they just had to do with what was going on in my life at the time."

You really brought such a light touch, and such smart humor, to the dialog. Was that your idea, or was it already there?  "Oh, it was there, in the script. Sometimes, you know, you'll add or change a word, or something -- just to make it go down more easily. But the script had that cynical humor from the beginning.

Was the hugely physical aspect very difficult?  "It was a three-month shoot, non-stop, and very wearing. The hardest part was having to wear a harness for certain scenes. That's grueling!"

And then you have to say your lines on top of that, one interviewer suggested. "You know, it's having to say those lines that actually helps get you through it. It gives you something to think about, to take your mind off the pain. It's when you've finished the dialog -- and there you are, still hanging -- that it gets really tough!"

Do you look for certain types of roles? "I think I'm open to whatever the universe brings," he laughs. "But I do like to be excited, surprised by a role. I tend to respond pretty intuitively to things. And sometimes I just get to the point where I can't read anything else. I'm just too overloaded. Right now, in fact, I'm on a six-month break from even reading anything.

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