Is there anything that cannot be made better by adding the words "IN SPACE"? No, no there isn't. Alien is a monster movie IN SPACE; its sequel Aliens is a Vietnam War movie IN SPACE. Star Trek has been described as "Wagon Train
Which it is. It's just that there's also this pesky thing called execution.
Snow (Guy Pearce) is a secret agent who has been framed for murder and espionage in a mission gone bad. Secret Service director Scott Langral (Peter Stormare) intends to lock him away in M.S. One - a maximum security prison in low Earth orbit - but as it so happens, the U.S President's daughter Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) is on a humanitarian mission to the very same M.S. One when a viciously insane inmate named Hydell (Joseph Gilgun) sparks a massive breakout. Langral and fellow agent Harry Shaw (Lennie James) devise a plan for Snow to infiltrate the prison and rescue Emilie under the nose of hundreds of violent criminals, who are now led by Alex (Vincent Regan), Hydell's brother. But Snow has his own reasons for accepting the mission: one of the inmates is his partner Mace (Tim Plester), who has information that could clear his name.
Okay, first of all, it's as much Die Hard in space as it is Escape from New York in space. The premise may be about one man - the only man who can! - sent into a prison to rescue the president's daughter (which, um, was Escape from L.A. rather than New York, but same diff), but both Snow and Emilie spend most of their time crawling through ducts and sneaking through corridors past bad guys. And instead of the indubitably badass Snake Plissken, Snow is more of a smart-assed, wise-cracking, making-it-up-as-he-goes-along kind of hero in the vein of Han Solo and Indiana Jones. All of which are prime ingredients for awesome - and indeed, the mere presence of such ingredients make it worthy of interest already. If you're the kind of person for whom "IN SPACE" inspires delight and not derision - like me - then you're pretty much guaranteed to enjoy this... somewhat.
Because since I didn't quite enjoy it as much as I'd hoped, that pretty much guarantees that everyone else ought to stay away. This is another in a long line of Luc Besson-produced Eurotrash action movies, and "trash" is an appropriate appellation. For one thing, the movie is shot through a sickly green filter that makes everything look grimy and scummy. For another, its on-screen violence - despite being PG-13 - is positively reckless in its disregard for subtlety or humanity, as best exemplified by the insanely over-the-top Hydell and the amount of faceless extras he kills. And for last, there's a distinct cheapness to the production, as exemplified during the first big chase sequence between Snow and some cops (all of whom fire live ammunition at civilians like it ain't no thing). This is set in The Future, so there's a futuristic bike and helicopter gunship and cars, but the CGI is incredibly blurry and fake-looking. Even video games look better than this.
And this is disappointing to a fan of IN SPACE movies like myself. The climax is a big space battle, and there are very few things I enjoy watching more than big space battles. Space battles, man! Spaceships going Pew Pew and Kaboom! But do you know how to ruin a space battle? With the same blurry CGI graphics and spastic editing that make it impossible to see what's going on. I have never heard of James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, but even two directors can't film a decent CGI action sequence. They're on slightly steadier ground with the screenplay (on which Besson is also credited, and for all I know wrote most of), but even that is not very well-paced. The best parts of this movie is with our snarky anti-hero Snow and his quippy banter with Emilie, but we don't get enough of them; the scenes with Langral and Harry in the, um, Low Orbit Police Department, with the prison revolt leaders, even with the subplot about Snow clearing his name, aren't as much fun and take up too much time.
Still, at least Guy Pearce knows what he's doing. If there's one thing Besson's trashy action flicks are good at, it's casting name actors in action hero roles in which they can have loads of fun looking incredibly cool - cases in point, Taken and From Paris with Love, to name just two I've watched previously. Pearce gets the cynical obnoxiousness of Snow down pat, and he spits out his one-liners with plenty of enjoyably devil-may-care attitude. Maggie Grace, who appears to have found steady employment from Besson as Designated Damsel in Distress, isn't as much fun, but she does get to bounce off Pearce in entertaining ways. The only other performance worth mentioning is Joseph Gilgun, whose psychopathic Hydell has a thick Scottish accent because Scotsmen make the best psychopaths. Everyone else is just kinda dull.
So what this movie boils down to is the variance between premise and execution. Everything about this premise screams an awesomely cheesy good time at the movies - so what does it say about it that I went in expecting just that and didn't quite get it? What it says is that even something like Escape from New York/Die Hard IN SPACE still needs a fair amount of talent and skill to pull off effectively, and that Mather and St. Leger don't quite possess it. Besson will probably go on to produce more cheap and junky action movies through his EuropaCorp production company, but I can't see myself eagerly awaiting the next one - action movie fan though I am. They're just not very good. Even the ones IN SPACE.
NEXT REVIEW: A Separation
Expectations: hope I can get in the right frame of mind to enjoy it