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edge staff writer


‘Locked Down’ less than the sum of its parts

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Brace yourselves, folks – the onslaught of pandemic cinema is fast approaching. We’re going to see a wealth of films a) made during the lockdown, b) made about the lockdown or c) both. Some of these movies might well prove to be exceptional pieces of work, but rest assured that a lot of them are going to be, well … not.

“Locked Down,” the new film directed by Doug Liman and starring Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor, lands closerto that latter category. Currently available on HBO Max, it’s the kind of throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks movie that doesn’t always work; toss in the limiting factors of pandemic production and you’re looking at a project that was already hamstrung before shooting started.

I mean, who thought it was a good idea to make a lockdown-centric movie mashup of romantic comedy, relationship drama and heist movie? Rumor has it that screenwriter Steven Knight wrote the script on a dare. It definitely shows. Now, it’s not all bad – the truth is that there are some solid ideas here and the leads are certainly talented enough. Unfortunately, the disparate elements never get properly blended, leaving us with a clunky three-into-one vibe that will prove frustrating to those who see the very real potential here.

Paxton (Ejiofor) and Linda (Hathaway) are a couple living in London. They had just decided to bring their decade-long relationship to an end when COVID hit, leaving the two of them stuck in lockdown together even as their connection deteriorates. Paxton has been furloughed from the shipping company where he’s been working, while Linda is dealing with making executive decisions regarding personnel in the fashion company where she heads up the UK office.

The two have been drifting apart for a long time, but the forced proximity caused by lockdown only exacerbates their issues. Paxton believes he deserves better from his job, but a long-ago criminal act has left him with relatively few employment options. Linda is struggling with the realities of being the person in charge in the midst of unprecedented times. Each copes in their own way – Linda starts smoking again; Paxton stands outside and shouts poetry to the neighbors. Neither is happy.

But when a remarkable (and highly unlikely) set of circumstances line up in front of them – circumstances that include, among other things, a chic department store, a valuable jewel and an unfortunately literary alias – Linda and Paxton are left with a decision. There’s a chance for them to set themselves up in a way as to never again have to work for people they despise, but only if they’re willing to take a massive leap of faith and risk everything. And even if their plan is successful, that doesn’t mean that their relationship will also succeed. It’s up to the two of them to decide what is truly important, as well as what they’re willing to do for that truth.

“Locked Down” is at the vanguard of what one has to assume is an impending deluge of COVID movies. There will be more, and the truth is that many of those films will be better than this one.

The biggest issue with “Locked Down” is that it is unable to commit to the type of movie it wants to be. For stretches, it is a relationship drama, a portrait of the dissolution of a marriage. Other times, it strains to find a rom-com sort of humor. And then there’s the whole heist element. Leaning into any one of these three vibes, narrowing the focus, would almost certainly have resulted in a more engaging experience. As it stands, the film feels piecemeal and patchwork, a story stitched together from assorted segments that don’t quite match up; the script definitely feels like the dare that it apparently was.

That admittedly large issue aside, “Locked Down” isn’t all bad. Doug Liman might be the guy that’s going into space to make a movie with Tom Cruise, but he cut his teeth by making smaller stories feel larger – films like “Swingers” and “Go.” He utilizes that skill set adeptly here, finding the breadth in the forced intimacy of Paxton and Linda’s home. Liman also navigates the restrictions placed on the production by the pandemic fairly adroitly, using varying methods to bring the world into their home before allowing them to venture out into it in the film’s third act.

Hathaway and Ejiofor are both talented performers who have chemistry to spare, but too often, we can still see the seams left by the breakneck pace of the shooting schedule; the film was shot in just 18 days. The two do their best to overcome that obstacle – and their best is VERY good – but there’s still a difficult-to-articulate absence. Still, those scenes where we see them really start cooking are easily the best in the entire film.

It’s a stacked supporting cast, albeit at a bit of a remove. Most of the famous faces we see in small roles – Mindy Kaling, Dule Hill and a pair of Bens (Stiller and Kingsley) – appear via Zoom. It’s an obvious and necessary choice, but there’s no disputing that while engaging an audience through one screen is tough, doing so through two is much tougher. Still, they do their best. Stephen Merchant shows up in the flesh, giving us his usual bumbling stammer as only he can.

In the end, though, it’s Hathaway and Ejiofor shouldering the load. And considering the handicaps placed upon them by the situation, they do a rather good job. Just not good enough to fully salvage the movie.

“Locked Down” suffers from wanting to do too much despite myriad internal and external limitations. It has a talented, charming pair of leads and some interesting ideas, but the filmmakers never seem to work out exactly how to put it all together. Sometimes, less is more … and this probably would have been one of those times.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 19 January 2021 12:28


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