Lock Up Review

Say what you will about the admittedly wavering quality of Sylvester Stallone’s acting: the man has a way of winning the audience over. His protagonists are typically underdogs, men for whom a certain set of skills has substituted social interactions. In films like Demolition Man and Judge Dredd (hardly crown jewels from the man who created Rocky Balboa), the comedy is derived from watching tough-guy Stallone settle into an unpredictable and often hostile environment. His typically gruff demeanor bodes equally well for action-heavy flicks, with Stallone throwing his weight around figuratively and literally. We invest in the man and the character – The Expendables is another test of the Stallone archetype, but we’ve yet to see if it pays off.

The year 1989 was marked by two Stallone star vehicles - Tango & Cash, which teamed Stallone with Kurt Russell in a film that has, at best, not aged well – and Lock Up, best described as a B-movie with B+ talent. Functioning more as an opportunity for Stallone to make a transition into grounded drama, the actor portrays Frank Leone, a mechanic serving five years at the Treadmore Prison. Prior to the end of his sentence, Leone is transferred to Gateway Prison, a maximum-security hellhole run by Warden Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland, insistently glowering as the one-note villain).

Drumgoole has a past history with Leone and is determined to see the mechanic spend the rest of his life in prison. Ruling over the facility with an iron fist, Drumgoole pits Leone against the guards and an inmate (Sonny Landham) looking to do damage. Faced with insurmountable odds and behind bars, Leone finds solace in fixing up a Ford Mustang with the help of Tom Sizemore and Frank McCrae, here playing con archetypes found in every film from Cool Hand Luke to Shawshank Redemption.

Lock Up often plays like a prison film amped up by Stallone’s presence alone. Once Drumgoole’s goons push Stallone too far, the star and director John Flynn (1991's Out For Justice) angle the film into an ass kicking but ultimately hugely derivative ending. Lock Up ends with Leone inevitably choosing brawn over brains in a move that's near and dear to most Stallone protagonists – an odd shift of tone since the actor’s performance for the majority of the film is based in a genuine reality, free from overblown emotions and monosyllabic expulsions of righteous anger that populate Rocky and Rambo.

Lock Up could have been an unexpected gem in Stallone’s late 80s/early 90s collection of ball-busting authority figures who find themselves out of their element. Instead, it’s a samey prison drama with a requisite amount of Stallone delivered violence. It’s a shame that the performance at the heart of the film is muted by the necessity of catering to audience expectations, but there it is. Lock Up flirts with realism throughout and the cast delivers the archetypes you’d expect, but it’s all too drab and repetitive to factor in either as drama or as a memorable Stallone vehicle.

The Blu-ray transfer is unexpectedly solid for a film this forgettable; a great transfer that maintains the look of the film while upping the quality that DVD delivers. Audio is decent and for a film where dialogue is front and center, the mix is not immersive but satisfying.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Features are all ported over from the DVD release – a 'making of', a couple of featurettes, cast interviews, a written profile of Stallone and the film’s trailer. Everything is presented in standard definition.

"Lock Up" is on sale August 3, 2010 and is rated R. Action, Crime, Crime-Thriller, Drama. Directed by John Flynn. Written by Richard Smith, Jeb Stuart, Henry Rosenbaum. Starring Donald Sutherland, Frank McCrae, Sonny Ladham, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Sizemore.

Mark Zhuravsky • Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.


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