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Case Number 11249: Small Claims Court

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Lock Up

Lionsgate // 1989 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // April 20th, 2007

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Editor's Note

Our reviews of Lock Up (Blu-Ray) (published July 19th, 2010) and Stallone: 3-Film Collector's Set (Blu-ray) (published September 7th, 2012) are also available.

The Charge

When you're behind bars, all bets are off.

The Case

Just after starring in Rambo III, when that franchise had exploded into unbelievability, Sly Stallone returned to the kind of hero that Rambo had been in First Blood. Lock Up saw Stallone as a generally good guy, placed in a system that wanted to see him go down. Though it's certainly not up to par with the Italian Stallion's best, some enjoyment can still be had from this distinctively '80s prison flick.

Stallone is Frank Leone, a man six months away from the end of an unjust jail term. He's serving it with patience and dignity, looking forward to freedom so that he can start a new life as a mechanic with his girlfriend, Melissa (Darlanne Fluegel, To Live and Die in L.A.). One night, he is swept away in the night and taken to a hellish maximum security prison under the care of Warden Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland, Aurora Borealis), a cruel man who wants some serious revenge on Leone. The warden will do whatever it takes to break Leone, and keep him in prison forever. How can one man fight the whole system?

While Lock Up certainly isn't the film it wants to be—and hasn't aged as well as some of the other action flicks from the era—it isn't a complete disaster. Stallone is at his best when playing a wronged man out for justice, and this is him at his scene-dominating, incomprehensibly-yelling best. He has a number of excellent supporting players, too, especially John Amos (Die Hard 2) as a tough guard captain and mountainous Frank McRay (Licence to Kill) as a calming mentor figure. The script is almost gleefully cliché-ridden, and keeps things light enough, even when the going gets tough. The movie gets edgier towards its end, evidence that this is supposed to be a different breed of film for Stallone.

Unfortunately, there are a number of things preventing Lock Up from transcending its cheesy '80s origins. Tom Sizemore (Black Hawk Down) spends his screen time doing his best Dennis Hopper imitation, the music is dreadful, and Darlanne Fluegel has as much personality as a blow-up doll (which is sort of what her role amounts to anyway). It would be easy to overlook all of these problems, though, if the script were a bit more consistent. There isn't much action in Lock Up, and way too much talking for the genre. When things do kick into a higher gear, we're just not given enough to make up for the 70 minutes of bad acting and touchy-feely synth music. Lock Up obviously wants to channel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but it should have aimed for the balls a little more often. Sure, it's more sensitive this way, but this could have been an exciting prison romp. As things stand, Lock Up only ever amounts to a pale shadow of what The ! Shawshank Redemption would be a few years later.

Lionsgate has tried to pull a fast one on this DVD release. There's a slick new cardboard shell around the keep case, but the disc is simply a repackage of the 2001 Artisan release. Hell, they didn't even bother changing the slip from the keep case underneath their new cardboard shell. Fortunately, the transfer isn't too bad. It's in anamorphic widescreen, and looks decent most of the time. It's a bit grainy and soft, as digital remastering technology has developed so much in the past six years. The sound comes across in a generic Dolby stereo track, which does the job and not much more. There is a featurette on the disc, but it's one of those old-school studio advertising reels.

Bottom line, if you already own Lock Up, don't buy it again. If you're a fan of the film, it's worth grabbing whatever version you can get for cheaper. I can't recommend the film that highly, though. It's not a great Stallone film, it's not a great prison film, and it's not a great redemption drama, either. In trying to adopt too many elements, Lock Up spreads itself way too thin. A couple good moments just aren't enough.

Lock Up is ordered to serve the rest of its sentence. Lions Gate is held in contempt of the court. If you are going to do a re-release, don't try to hide it.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• Spanish
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Action
• Drama

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurette


• IMDb

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