Directed by James Mather, Stephen St. Leger. Starring Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare, Vincent Regan. (2012, PG-13, 95 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 20, 2012
What colossally – cosmically, even – silly business this actioner is, its only whiff of restraint to be found in the terse, noncommittal title; more foursquare would've been Prison Riot in Space! (think pulp-fiction lettering). Surely no one could sign on to this kind of premise – rogue agent breaks into a galactic maximum-security prison to save the president's daughter – without giggling at the dotted line, and that very gigglingness translates onscreen into a kind of loosey-goosey, agreeable diversion.
Guy Pearce plays the reluctant hero Snow, built like a bulkhead and powered by cigarettes and vinegary asides plucked from the collected musings of Indiana Jones, John McClane, and Snake Plissken. (And on the subject of his name: This is the second "Snow"-monikered movie character this month – see also Mirror Mirror; side effects may include the unfortunate reviving in one's mind of that long-buried early Nineties track from the same-named Canadian reggae rapper, who so memorably urged us all to "a licky boom boom down.") An undercover agent framed for murder in 2079, Snow has been sentenced to MS One, a privately owned penitentiary that puts violent offenders on deep freeze for the duration of their stay. (Wait, but what's the point of doing time if you're not awake for – oh, forget it.) In any case, Snow's arrival times neatly with a goodwill visit by the president's daughter, Emilie (Grace), which ends in a prisoner overthrow and hostage crisis. Off go Snow's shackles, and on goes the artillery belt and mission to save the girl and get off the orbiting rock alive.
Like I said, frightfully silly stuff – not especially fresh off the vine, either, if you've seen John Carpenter's Escape From New York – but producer/co-screenwriter Luc Besson has had his tongue planted firmly in cheek for some time now, at least in his nondirectorial work as a veritable action factory, conceiving and/or scripting and/or producing epinephrine-spiky entertainments that include The Transporter and Taken. The co-directors (who also co-wrote and work together directing commercials as Saint & Mather) don't proffer any wildly inventive spins on either action or sci-fi genre tropes, but they have the pacing down pat and a sure enough hand coaxing charisma from the bickering leads, as well as the film's two villains – one steely, one wackadoodle (played by Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun, respectively). The space prison set-pieces get the job done; only in the film's terrestrial bookends does this nuts-and-bolts action film show its rust.