Countless observers have described Lockout, the latest dumb-as-a-doorknob action flick from writer/producer Luc Besson, as "Taken set in space" -- including the prolific scribe himself. But if its tough-guy-rescuing-Maggie-Grace premise is lifted from Besson's 2010 hit, that's merely one of the many other films echoing throughout the futuristic space prison at its center; there's just as much Escape from New York, Die Hard, and Demolition Man as Taken in there, calling up memories of Reagan-Bush I era action cinema, and the politics of that period. What's striking, when watching Lockout (aside from what a terrible, lunk-headed movie it is), is how frequently and explicitly it flaunts its anti-Democrat -- and anti-Obama -- point of view.
This was nothing unusual in the 1980s, when films such as Rambo, Red Dawn, Missing in Action, and Top Gun parroted GOP talking points (often with the express cooperation of the folks at the Pentagon, who know a recruiting tool when they see one). The era's biggest action stars -- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and, later, Bruce Willis -- were proud Republicans. But those films at least attempted to finesse their leanings. Lockout, not so much.
The story, set in 2079, concerns the rescue of the president's daughter (Grace) by '80s-style grizzled loner Snow (Guy Pearce), a former CIA operative framed for a crime he didn't commit. He's sentenced to 30 years in "M.S. One," a super-max prison in space -- where, coincidentally enough, the First Daughter and her entourage have been taken hostage in a prisoner uprising. In true '80s movie style, the president is an old white guy (now that we have a real black president, movies are apparently under no further obligation to present fictional ones); he's also a feckless, selfish tax-and-spend liberal.
A few moments of note from the film:
• During the rescue, when our hero won't go along with the First Daughter, she threatens, "Do you know what my father will do?" His reply: "Raise my taxes again?"
• Our heroine proves herself capable of dispatching baddies with an automatic weapon. "Jesus," Snow muses. "I thought you were a Democrat!"
• She insists that something or other is "not my fault." He retorts, "Now you sound like your father."
The first two jabs are standard, boilerplate, anti-Democrat stuff: the invocation of the tax-and-spend liberal, and of the lily-livered gun-control wuss. The third is the one that's aimed squarely at President Obama, who seemingly had a window of about one week to blame the economic woes on his predecessor, and has since been roundly criticized for continuing to "blame Bush." And then, toward the end of the film (spoiler alert), the commander in chief must be removed from office by the head of the Secret Service, invoking the 25th amendment. He's putting himself and his family above the country; the climactic scene, in which he's presented with a removal order (complete with the signatures of the VP, majority leader, etc.) plays like a birther's wet dream.
Filmmakers are having a hard time figuring out what to do with Obama, after eight years of Bush (and Bush surrogates) to use as a target. Hollywood is, as right-wing pundits never cease reminding us, a town that mostly leans to the left; its storytellers have viewed the federal government primarily with suspicion and contempt over those two Republican administrations. But then, things shifted. In spring of 2010, Brock Eisner's remake of George A. Romero's The Crazies hit theaters, and there was something strangely timely about its unsettling paranoiac vision, which seemed to refract the charged, fringe-right rhetoric in the air. Particularly noteworthy, among all the black helicopters and executions of citizenry, were sequences of military personnel tossing civilians into quarantine camps; the previous spring, while the film was in production, fringe conspiracy websites and figures like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck were whispering about "FEMA concentration camps" -- an idea first posited, it seems, in the 1998 film version of the TV series The X-Files. By the following year, the paradigm had shifted; Steven Soderbergh's Contagion featured a federal government that saved the day, its heroes the selfless employees of the CDC.
But now here's Lockout, which gives us an implicitly Republican hero to root for and an explicitly Democratic president to jeer at. And say what you will about action movies, but they know their audience; one wonders if those who see it will, as the filmmakers seem to expect, laugh and cheer along with its digs at the "liberal" in the White House.