Where would we be without Die Hard? Under Siege wouldn’t be “Die Hard on a boat”, The Rock wouldn’t be “Die Hard on Alcatraz”, and Lockout wouldn’t be “Die Hard in a maximum security prison in outer space”.

But there it is.

Lockout is the latest idea from the once-formidable mind of Luc Besson (he did, after all, give us The Professional, La Femme Nikita, and The Fifth Element before throwing goose eggs with his recent efforts, From Paris with Love and Colombiana). It’s sometimes fun, sometimes exciting, but mostly silly bit of matinee froth. But somehow it works.

Actually, that “somehow”‘s name is Guy Pearce, who anchors Lockout with a rock-solid performance as Snow, an ex-CIA operative who’s wrongly accused of executing a colleague. As penance for his crime, he’s given the plum assignment of heading into space to rescue the President’s daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace), who’s trapped inside the aforementioned prison when the depraved inmates (500 of the ‘worst of the worst’) break out. It makes Escape from New York look like a weekend jaunt.

Snow, like John McClane before him, is a cocky smartass with all the abilities of a 20-man SWAT unit in just his right hand. And though there’s no doubt that he’ll be successful in the end, it’s a heck of a ride to watch how he works to get there.

Along the way he not only has to deal with Emilie’s insufferable inability to shut up about everything, he’s also up against some of the more colorful bad guys in recent memory. Alex (Vincent Regan) is the quiet, deliberate Hans Gruber-type, while Hydell (Joseph Gilgun) is more like Karl– completely off-the-wall.

First-time directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Besson, do a decent job keeping the pacing up– at least until the rather wimpy ending. And the effects more than get the job done, especially considering that it appears upwards of 90% of the movie was filmed in front of a green screen.

As for the script itself, well… of course it’s riddled with pretty much every cliché in the action movie playbook (bullets never find their target, there’s always just enough time to hide from the bad guys as a door opens, and no matter how injured our hero is, he can always jump back up and finish the job) but there’s plenty of clever fun here, too. And Pearce is at the heart of it all, delivering a performance that makes you seriously question who would win in a snarkiness fight… he or Bruce Willis.

Besson has redeemed himself from his recent miscues, but only barely. Lockout may well be forgotten within the month, but for right now, it’s a pretty good ride.

3/5 stars