As an exercise in making a reasonably entertaining movie in the middle of a pandemic, “Locked Down” is something of a triumph.
Limited sets, a stellar “socially-distanced” cast, some shooting their own footage in ill-framed cell phone video, screen-freezes and Oscar winning fashionista Anne Hathaway playing a boss with business sharp blouse and jacket combos worn over pajama bottoms in Zoom meetings? It’s a terrific artifact of life in these times, in “this situation,” this locked-in, isolated “land of the walking dead.”
The caper comedy it eventually becomes? Strictly an afterthought, and one that should have been discarded, seeing as how badly botched it is on a very basic genre level.
Director Doug Liman is the guy who wants to film his “Edge of Tomorrow” star Tom Cruise in space as his next stunt. I have no doubts he’ll manage it, even if the movie comes out like the rest of his filmography (“Fair Game,””The Wall”), more interesting in concept than execution.
You could do a lot worse than hiring the fellow who scripted that Tom Hardy, on his cell in an SUV talking drama “Locke,” Steven Knight. He comes up with a LOT of things for people to muse over, confess, debate and complain about, and co-star Hathaway handles all that verbiage at a staccato screwball comedy pace — a blur of words, many of them funny, biting and close to perfect in summing up city life in COVID.
“How are you?” “Terrible. You?” “Just awful.“
Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor are a London couple waiting until “this madness is over” to complete their break up. They’re cohabiting as a survival mechanism. She works for a multi-national promotions/event managing company of some sort, and on the day we meet her, Linda Zooms her entire staff in to lay them off.
Her now-ex partner Paxton (Ejiofor) is antic and verbose, regaling their city block with poetry recitals before the nightly banging of the pans (Remember those?).
“I write poetry! I could BE someone!”
Except he isn’t. He’s a delivery truck driver, and he a bad-boy-on-a-motorbike past that was catnip to Linda. Once. How’s her day going?
“I just had some bad news…nothing…compared to…EVERYthing.”
They keep their distance, barely communicate and when they do, they erupt in duologues — either talking over each other or not paying enough attention to what the other is saying. His family (Jaymyn Simon, Dulé Hill) are upset at hearing about the breakup via Zoom. We figure out why when Linda walks in on him on his motorcycle in the garage.
“Why is the hose in the exhaust?”
His boss (Ben Kingsley, in and out of his cell phone camera frame) needs to fudge Paxton’s ID to get him higher security clearance for deliveries of items from posh department store Harrad’s — in the middle of a pandemic. Her German boss is ready to move her back to the States, and her US counterpart (Ben Stiller, very funny), chilling with his teens and wife in Vermont, may be threatened by that.
“Do you have a temperature, Linda?” That’s the COVID version of “Is it that time of the month?” Not nice. Then again, she’s not even keeping her omni-present wine glass out of camera range.
Eventually, these two intolerable work situations force our splitting up couple to find common ground and purpose — a heist.
That twist in the picture arrives well after the point where one has stopped summarizing the movie’s plot, an after-thought. It’s introduced clumsily and executed without much suspense, wit or urgency.
It doesn’t break “Locked Down,” which needs judicious trimming in the first two acts as it is. But it robs us of most of the elements that make a caper comedy/heist picture fun — the planning, the logistics. We don’t know enough to know when to be worried they might get caught.
All that other talk and they couldn’t squeeze the basics in?
Ejiofor is OK, somewhat underwritten as a biker “poet.” Hathaway is in top form but could stand to lose every line that isn’t funny or doesn’t advance the plot.
Some of the cameos — Kingsley, Stiller — are funnier than others (Mindy Kaling has nothing funny to play). The use of Harrad’s and Zoom was inspired, details like druggies eyeing the poppies they have growing in their garden plot — hilarious.
But in the end, we’re left with a gimmick movie that doesn’t come off, an accurate-enough artifact of the global lockdown of last spring that will be remembered for that, and little else.
MPA Rating: R for language throughout and some drug material
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ben Kingsley, Jaymyn Simon, Ben Stiller
Credits: Directed by Doug Liman, script by Steven Knight. An HBO Max release.
Running time: 1:55