By Jared Young

Mailed on April 16, 2012

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Dear Luc Besson

Dear Luc,

You're already getting the gears from the online Nerderati about how much your new film Lockout - as of the mailing of this letter, still unreleased - owes to John Carpenter's sci-fi cult classic Escape From New York. And they're not wrong: the super-max prison (yours is on a space station), the first-family hostage (you've swapped the salt-and-pepper President for his comely daughter, played here by Maggie Grace), the squinty, thuggish, quick-witted super-soldier (you traded young Kurt Russell for not-so-young Guy Pearce), and an escape-pod-load of other Easter-eggs I surely missed.

But there's a lot more going on here than a slavish ripping-off of everyone's favourite post-apocalyptic action-comedy, isn't there?

First of all, let's not call it a rip-off, because that implies an act of theft. Shakespeare borrowed liberally from Plutarch's Parallel Lives to conjure rich historical details in plays like Antony & Cleopatra, and, as in his work, which enriched and contextualized existing tropes, all the appropriation here is above board. In fact, it seems to be the whole point. So let's call Lockout what it is: a tribute.

But it's not just Escape that you're borrowing from; and it's not just a genre, or style, or era. It's…well, everything.

There are direct allusion to Aliens and Die Hard, minor tics and twitches adopted from The Road Warrior and Minority Report, a denouement that unfolds like a parody of The Usual Suspects, and even a weirdly misplaced impression of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Main. On paper, at least, you created the ultimate mash-up flick.

Lockout, then, should be a cinema geek's nirvana. But the whole is slightly less than the sum of its parts. It doesn't - it can't, really - live up to the high standard set by all those other films. That's the danger of riffing, in the Shakespearian manner, off past masterpieces: sometimes, in the remixing, what made them great is lost.

Anyways, what I wanted to tell you, Luc, is that I appreciated the effort.



PS. I think you and I both know that the real reason to sit through these 90 minutes is for Guy Pearce. His Snake McClane (or John Plissken--tomato, tomah-to) is able to make more of your often blocky dialogue than poor Maggie Grace, who spends half the flick looking like Tetsuo from Akira. He's a worthy heir to Russell, and his performance is the closest Lockout ever gets to playing on the same field as its source material.

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