French producer Luc Besson (the Transporter trilogy) has made a name for himself (and others) pumping out high-octane, adrenaline-fueled schlock. Thrillers that only pause to deliver a well-timed one-liner, while a tough-as-nails hero (usually European) blasts away bad guys to save a fragile victim and complete his mission. His movies are made up of mostly standard stuff, red meat for red-blooded males, but at least they move.
Besson’s latest run-and-gun is a high-concept sci-fi noir set in the year 2079. Except the “high” concept is essentially “Escape from New York in space” since the movie lifts the entire plot, in which a wise-cracking antihero must rescue an innocent official stranded in a futuristic prison overtaken by psychotic convicts. James Mather and Stephen St. Leger share directing duties on their first feature and co-writing credits with Besson, but struggle to represent anything especially inventive. As a result, your enjoyment will depend almost entirely on your familiarity with Escape from New York and whether it is better or worse in space. (Spoiler: it’s worse.)
Guy Pearce’s smirking Snow is the tough-guy stand-in for Kurt Russell’s Snake Plisskin and, in this dystopia, the protagonist is tasked with rescuing the President’s daughter, Emilie (Maggie Grace, who was also in Besson’s Taken). And, instead of the isle of Manhattan, this PG-13 homage is set in a sort of outer-space Alcatraz, a super-max facility called M.S. One.
Pearce plays Snow as the typical casual, cool hero, rattling off snappy comebacks and stepping over anyone that gets in his way, and Grace’s Emilie is the standard fiesty babe who resists his help and sly charms, at first. They exchange flirty barbs and obstinate assertions between cuts to two Scottish convicts (Joseph Gilgun and Vincent Regan), who bicker about the plan, and to the government officials surrounding the President, who bicker about the plan.
It’s predictable, by-the-book moviemaking, rendered only marginally unique because there are stars outside the windows. Snow scrambles his way through an obstacle course of spinning rotors, closing airlocks, and the usual dubious physics, chasing goals that switch sporadically from search to rescue to hostages to a suitcase MacGuffin. When the chase grows cold, other “twists” are introduced, such as, oh yeah, “M.S. One is falling out of the sky” and a rushed last-minute wrap-up that is more confusing than revealing. Besson’s latest production really moves, but only along a tame, familiar convicts-run-wild thriller… in space.