Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Lock Up" (1989)

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Donald Sutherland and Tom Sizemore
Written by Richard Smith, Jeb Stuart and Henry Rosenbaum
Directed by John Flynn

Frank Leone (Sylvester Stallone) is a model prisoner in a minimum-security facility serving five years for an escape attempt at a previous prison in order to see his dying father.  The warden of that prison, Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland) was disgraced after Leone went public with stories of Drumgoole's tyrannical rule over the inmates.  One night, six months before his sentence is over, Frank is dragged from his cell and transferred to a harsh, maximum-security prison under the iron fist of Drumgoole who has managed to use his influence to get Frank back under his thumb for a little revenge.

Frank's new prison is a hell on earth, populated by dangerous killer inmates and vicious, power-hungry and corrupt guards.  But Frank has only six months to go, and his optimism and friendly nature make him a popular inmate and he gathers a small group of friends to help him through the next six months.  First among these is Dallas (Tom Sizemore) a fast-talker who can weasel his way into getting just about anything, followed by Eclipse (Frank McRae) a trustee who runs the prison's mechanic garage, and First Base (Larry Romano) a young kid doing time on a bum rap.

But Drumgoole is determined to make Frank's life a living hell.  He pushes the guards and the inmates against Frank, trying to maneuver Frank into making a mistake that will allow him to extend Frank's sentence.  But as Frank continues to remain upbeat, Drumgoole's plays get more and more dangerous and Frank comes closer and closer to snapping.

"Lock Up" starts out promisingly enough, with a quick setup of Frank's life as he approaches release, and then transferring him into terrible new surroundings.  But as the film goes on and on, it seems to lose its focus.  Ultimately, the film seems to realize that it's gone too far astray and rushes to come to a conclusion that's just a bit too quick and neat.  But for most of its runtime, it is rather enjoyable.  Stallone plays good-natured Frank a lot like Rocky Balboa - upbeat, friendly and charming.  He has a good, fun friendship with the other inmates he surrounds himself with, but he's also capable of taking on the dangers that surround him.

The setting is well-drawn, too.  Even a game of football in the yard can become a battle for survival where the inmates will go at each other with almost animal ferocity while the guards simply allow it all to happen.  But the movie gets lost in having fun with Frank and his buddies, and then veering back and forth between that and times of terrific danger.  And then, suddenly it seems, the ending just comes.   Frank is able to convince the guard captain, the stern but fair Meissner (John Amos) that Drumgoole has been out to set him up from the beginning.

"Lock Up" is somewhat enjoyable, but too unfocused for its own good.  It writes itself into a corner and then has a tough time getting out of it.  It's also fairly predictable, as well, with double crosses and ruses you can see coming a mile away.  Still, Stallone is a fun presence and the film is pretty easy to watch.  It's just not going to become a favored classic in anyone's collection.