For years after Die Hard set the template for modern action moviesā€”predominantly single location, pitting tough and often irreverent loose cannon against a pack of sneering Euro-terrorists or gangstersā€”the ā€œDie Hard in aā€ subgenre thrived: on a plane (Air Force One), a boat (Under Siege), and a hockey rink (Sudden Death) before the related ā€œSpeed but with aā€ sub-subgenre took over, and Cuba Gooding Jr. and Skeet Ulrich drove an ice-cream truck into cinema history. Though a hat-tip is owed to John Carpenterā€™s Escape From New York, the Die Hard-in-a-prison-floating-in-outer-space thriller Lockout is a pleasingly ridiculous throwback to that tradition, co-written by producer Luc Besson, who knows his way around a quality knockoff. Replace the sneering Euro-terrorists with prison insurrectionists, add the presidentā€™s daughter as the damsel-in-distress, and the script is just a few zingers away from writing itself.

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Donning a T-shirt that reads ā€œWarning: Offensive,ā€ Guy Pearce stars as a government agent who, in action terms, plays by his own rulesā€”or at least the rules of Harrison Ford as Han Solo, or Kurt Russell as John Wayne as Snake Plissken. A reluctant hero of the cynical, wisecracking kind, Pearce stands falsely accused of conspiracy to commit espionage, but a revolt at a Supermax prison in outer space gives him an opportunity to redeem himself. Because the outer-space-prison hook isnā€™t pulpy enough, the powers-that-be send Pearce on a mission to rescue the daughter-in-chief (Maggie Grace), an entitled yet feisty Princess Leia-type who the prisoners are holding for ransom.

Everything about Lockout is patently absurd, starting with a facility so costly and inefficient that it might as well have sharks in astronaut helmets patrolling the perimeter. Pearceā€™s directive is also far-fetched, because it requires him to break into the prison, dodge a gauntlet of rebel thugs and inmates off their meds, slip away with a high-value hostage, and break for the nearest pod out of there. But Besson and his writer-director team, James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, are comfortable with the ā€œimpossibleā€ side of their mission impossible. They humbly suggest the audience keep its disbelief suspended like Neil Armstrongā€™s sack. More than any masculine heroics, Pearceā€™s primary job is maintaining the tone: smug, irreverent, and giddily punch-drunk.

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