Review in a Hurry: In the future, the U.S. has built the ultimate maximum-security prison in space. But the inmates (shocker!) have taken over. After being wrongly accused of murder, a rascally federal agent is tasked with venturing to the penal colony to save…the president's daughter!
Despite the numerous genre-trappings, this Escape From New York meets sci-fi flick succeeds somewhat with two leads who charm: Guy Pearce (Mildred Pierce) has a ball doing his best Kurt Russell while Maggie Grace (Lost) shows she can still play privileged but this time it's way less annoying.
Still, this is a pretty by-the-numbers story.
The Bigger Picture: MS One is an experimental prison orbiting Earth with the most dangerous criminals kept in stasis: a deep sleep that may include side effects such as dementia and rage, sure to be good treatment for the criminally insane. Emilie Warnock (Grace), the president's daughter has visited the colony to insure that the prisoners are treated humanely. But then—wouldn't you know it—all manners of chaos ensue.
Enter Agent Snow (Pearce), tasked with not only saving Emilie but also retrieving an inmate who can prove Snow's own innocence for that murder thing.
If you've ever seen a film by Luc Besson (Taken) you'll recognize his signature elements: hyper Euro-style action, charcoal-toned visuals and a heroine who chops her hair off and starts to look like Milla Jovovich from The Fifth Element.
To say this script by Stephen St. Leger, James Mather and Besson is generic is being generous. There's a time limit to destruction MS One's permanent orbit might not be so permanent, the required ground crew to aid Snow, and, of course, an overcrowded group of deranged prisoners at every turn.
But all is not lost. One of the best developments is Snow teaming up with Emilie rather quickly. Once they do meet up it's of the will-they-or-won't-they variety. The two have gone for a neat trick, acting like they're in a silly rom-com instead of a silly prison flick. It works. Pearce gets most of the good one-liners while Grace is more than able to kick butt when needed. The tone of the whole endeavor shouldn't work as well as it does (who does one liners anymore?) but as they say casting is everything.
Of course, that "casting is everything" mantra has a downside. While the main villain is a grizzly career criminal (Vincent Regan) unfortunately, the brotherhood of convicts also has psycho named Hydell (Joseph Gilgun). Gilgun plays it too over the top, like some bad impression of Robert Carlyle's character from Trainspotting.
The 180—a Second Opinion: If you're a fan of sci-fi this is still a decent enough ride, especially with Guy Pearce as the leading man. At ninety minutes, the pacing never falters.