Year: 2012
Production Co: Europa Corp
Director: James Mather/Stephen Saint Leger
Writer: James Mather/Stephen Saint Leger/Luc Besson
Cast: Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare

Not long after watching this movie, I saw it on a list of the worst movies of the year, which I think is unfair. It has a very strong premise that's treated with cheesy fun – if that's what producer Luc Besson and director James Mather set out to do, it did so perfectly.

Guy Pearce is a wise-cracking, mugging anti-hero in a near future of supersonic motorcycles, high tech gadgetry and a high–tech prison that sees inmates frozen in cryo-stasis and stored in a huge ship in Earth orbit.

The movie rests on Pearce's shoulders most of the time and at first brush he might seem the worst choice for a hard-headed, funny and ultimately lovable tough guy in the John McClane mold. But after a very long career he's a screen veteran, and the particular push only recently into bigger and bigger movies like Prometheus and Lawless might be expanding his experience enough to handle anything. Whether it's that or simple acting chops, he pulls off what the character calls for.

Known only as Snow, he's set up by the slimy US Defence Secretary (Stormare), accused of murdering his mentor during a sting operation. They give him a choice – go to the prison in the sky and serve his time, or break into the place for a rescue mission.

The US President's daughter Emilie (Grace) has travelled to the prison as part of her work investigating human rights abuses after stories have surfaced that the cryonic process causes dangerous psychosis in the prisoners. But things go bad when a violent inmate woken up for Emilie to interview stages a prison break, waking and freeing the entire population. They quickly take over and snatch the surviving guards and staff prisoner, with no idea who Emilie is.

Snow's mission is to break into the prison from outside and get Emilie out before her captors realise what a high value hostage she is, but he's spotted coming aboard, setting off a manhunt. Meanwhile, the lead villain running the whole thing has increasing trouble keeping his psychotic inmate brother (the one woken up to talk to Emilie) under control, threatening the whole fragile truce with collapse at any moment.

Snow finds Emilie and if the psychos stalking the ship don't find them, they might just kill each other – Snow not the least bit interested in her concerns about the health and rights of the inmates and her rubbed up the wrong way by his brashness. It's classic screwball comedy stuff and even though it's all very corny, Pearce and Grace have enough personality (and are given enough gags) by the script to keep their scenes zinging along.

Everything else is a mix of the expected and the pleasantly surprising. The relationship between the prisoners is inventive and really brings the villains to life rather than cast a bunch of faceless 'badness' fodder, so even when Pearce and Grace aren't on screen, it keeps you interested.

There's a lot more to like, including more depth than you expect when it could have been a very empty spectacle dripping with cliches. For instance, the subplot of the suitcase hidden at a train station that only Snow's now-crazy partner knows the location of is a good bookending device that fits into the plot nicely.

Despite yourself, you'll enjoy it for assured execution among the details even if the whole thing is ridiculous and overcooked.

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