Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lock Up (1989)

Title: Lock Up (1989)

Director: John Flynn

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Donald Sutherland, Tom Sizemore

So as it turns out Lock Up, another childhood favorite of mine was a box office flop! To me it was always this awesome prison movie with a great cast and moments, but as it turns out, it didn’t even make its 25 million dollar budget back. But who cares! Just because a film is a box office flop does not instantaneously make it a bad movie. Just look at Blade Runner (1982) and Legend (1986), two amazing Ridley Scott films that failed to connect with audiences upon their initial release, yet know they are both recognized as  some of the best films within their respective genres. The same can be said for Stallone’s Lock Up. It’s a great prison/revenge flick, it isn’t perfect and it isn’t necessarily realistic, but it gets the job done as far as entertainment value goes.

Things start out great for Frank Leone!

 On this one, Stallone plays inmate Frank Leone, a man doing time for having successfully achieved a jailbreak. You see Frank was denied the right to visit an old friend of his who was dying and so he went ahead and escaped just so he could say his last goodbye to the man who taught him everything he knows. So he is caught again and given five years for that. But Frank’s done his time, and now he is just three weeks away from getting out of jail and becoming a free man. Unfortunately one day, a mysterious group of police men pick him up and transfer him to Gateway Prison. Why? Well, it’s all because of Warden Drumgoole (you gotta be a villain with a name like that!) the Warden who looked bad when Frank escaped from his prison. Now the warden is looking for some payback. He’s looking to make Frank’s remaining three weeks a living hell. Will Frank be strong enough to withstand the psychological and physical torture that will be inflicted upon him? Will he ever get out and reunite with his smoking hot fiance?

 So what we got here is a film that’s been genetically designed to pull your heartstrings. Stallone plays the every man, one of these ‘model prisoners’ that is allowed to go out of the prison to visit his family, then return to the prison and continue making his time. Stallone’s Frank is such a nice guy that he plays football with the neighborhood kids and  brings cigarettes to his cell mates, gifts from the outside world. He has a beautiful fiance. A word about the actress who plays  Stallone's fiance. She is called Darlanne Fluegel, and my question is where the heck did she disappear to? She actually made a decent bunch of films during the 80’s like To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) for William Friedkin and Once Upon a Time in America (1984) for Sergio Leone. Sadly her career deviated towards straight to video horror films until she completely disappeared, she hasn’t done anything recently, but wow, on this movie, she is a stunning beauty. But back to Frank Leone, the everyman, the good guy who doesn’t deserve to be in jail. In fact, this guy is so good that even the cops are his friends!

Gateway Penitentiary, a.k.a. HELL. 

 Now, if you know the rules of movie logic, then you know that when a characters life is going well, then something truly awful is around the corner just waiting to happen. Same thing holds true for this movie, we open with a super happy ‘almost out of jail’ vibe, and suddenly everything changes when Frank is transferred to a maximum security prison, not at all the country club he was making time in. Suddenly, Frank is informed that he will be given the guided tour through hell by Warden Drumgoole himself. But the thing about Frank Leone is that he’s got such a good attitude about everything, he’s the kind of guy that realizes that your situation in life might be shitty, but you can make it all better with the right attitude. Franks attitude reminds me of what the cowboy in Mulholland Drive (2001) says: “A mans attitude…a man’s attitude goes some ways…the way his life will be” And that is something I agree with, truthfully. Your attitude can take you out of a negative situation and if not, then at the very least it will help you endure it a little better.  And it’s a mentality that Frank Leone carries with him through out the whole film; it’s his defense mechanism against all the crap he is living through.

 Stallone has been known for playing characters like these through out his whole career. It’s the kind of character who gets put through inhuman amounts of physical and psychological torture, just so he can later get his glorious payback, which will be equally unforgiving. I’m thinking of  films like First Blood (1982) and Rocky (1976), two films in which Stallone plays the underdog who gets pushed around by his enemies until he cant take it no more and finally decides to make a stand for himself. At one point in Lock Up Frank is pushed to the limits of his endurance and he says “You want me? You got me!” And you just know the bad guys are going to get it, full force. It’s the kind of film that messes around with the good guy and gets you all worked up because of  it. Lock Up is designed to be the kind of film that will win audiences over. Stallone has always been good at making the kind of movies that will get an audience all worked up. You ever see an audience scream at the screen during a Rocky movie? I know I have, and I dare you not to be totally involved once Frank’s buttons are pushed too far. And they are, Donald Sutherland’s evil warden will make sure of that. He’ll have you hating him so much that by the end of the film, you’ll want to see him fry on the electric chair.

The Football game of the Gods!

The film has some really good points in its favor, one of them is that they chose to shoot the film on location in  a real life prison called East Jersey State Prison located in Rahway, New Jersey. You can tell its the real deal, and though the film looses its realism with certain situations, it makes up for it with how real and genuine the location is. Hell, they even used real inmates as extras! Stallone said that during the sequences where real life inmates were used, he was always "hoping that good will would  prevail" so that the shoot would go on without anyone getting killed, and so it did. I mean, everyone loves a movie getting made, even inmmates. I love how moviemaking has that power to overcome anything. There is a football game on this movie that feels like something out of a sword and sandal epic, like a battle of the gods type of football game between the ‘good inmates’ and the ‘bad inmates’ though technically they are all bad cause they aren’t in jail for nothing. But still, the scene is played out like something you’d watch in a roman coliseum, a lot of the emotion infused into these scenes comes from the blaring orchestral soundtrack, which gets you all worked up for a battle of the century type of game, awesome sequence. Everything leads up to the eventual jail break, with Frank looking to make it to his girlfriend on time. This movie will have you hooked; the only downside is that many of the situations are simply not realistic at all. Characters do things in a prison that would never happen in a prison. These prisoners are smoking stogies and fixing cars up and having a male bonding time of their lives! But wait, aren’t these guys supposed to be in the most hellish prison ever? Why is everyone so damn happy? Why are these prisoners such nice guys? I doubt there are such nice guys in prison. And where the heck is Frank Leone’s lawyer? Many situations might have you scratching your head, but you probably won’t give a damn because you’ll be having such a good time with this movie. A bonafide crowd pleaser every step of the way.

Rating: 4 out of 5    

Director John Irving discusses a scene with Stallone

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