Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, August 17, 2016


Sylvester Stallone has had his fair share of hits and flops over his long career. For every career defining Rocky or Rambo movie, there’s been a “Rhinestone” or “Judge Dredd.” However, it’s rare that one of his movies totally slips from the pop culture consciousness. I mean, people still crack jokes about “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.” Yet “Lock Up” is a totally obscure Sylvester Stallone vehicle. It came and went with little attention in 1989. I had never even heard of the movie until, some years back, its trailers appeared at the front of a VHS tape I bought. How come the film has been so totally forgotten?

Frank Leone is a simple man, the owner of a garage who has a faithful girlfriend. However, an act of vigilante justice got him sent to prison. After escaping last time, he’s headed back to the pokey to finish his sentence. However, after a relatively stress free day in one prison, he’s transferred to Gateway Prison. A prison packed with violent criminals, Gateway is overseen by Warden Drumgoole. The warden has a personal grudge against Leone. He forces increasingly cruel acts upon Frank, hoping to make him snap and break the law once again.

You’ll notice that Sylvester Stallone often plays outsiders or outcast of some sort. Characters like Rocky Balboa, Marion Cobretti, and Lincoln Hawk were all eccentric misfits with few friends. Frank Leone from “Lock Up” has got to be one of the most genteel characters in Sly’s entire career. The guy is introduced coaching a peewee football league. Upon entering prison, it doesn’t take long for him to make friends. He’s soon helping other prisoners out with their group project of restoring an old car. While characters like Rambo or Cobra barely need provocation to start killing, Leone goes nearly the entire movie without even punching anyone. Stallone is a charming guy and “Lock Up” is a fine performance from him. However, the movie definitely feels like a project he agreed to without rewriting much.

While Frank is clearly the main character of “Lock Up,” the movie is nearly an ensemble project. His band of friends features a few familiar faces. Frank McRae, in his fourth appearance in a Stallone flick, plays Eclipse, the fellow mechanic. It’s another good-natured performance from a typically charming and laid back McRae. Larry Romano is memorable as First Base, the inmate who misbehaves most frequently. Tom Sizemore, in his debut role, plays Dallas. Sizemore has the least developed role in the script but still brings some memorable sweatiness to the part. Among the villains, Donald Sutherland nicely hams it up as the villainous warden. Sonny Landhum is all macho bluster and brutal physicality as Chink, the tough guy in the prison block. John Amos has a memorable role as Meissner, the captain of the guards. Though introduced as a hard ass, he eventually becomes an alley of Leone.

Maybe there’s a reason “Lock Up” didn’t impress audiences. The movie freely partakes in prison movie clichés. As I’ve already mentioned, the film contains a sadistic warden who delights in torturing the hero. There’s also the expected band of vicious guards, who also enjoy beating and harming the prisoners. There are plenty of shanks. Once Leone and friends are out in the yard, a number of fight scenes between gangs take place. Naturally, one of the innocent prisoners ends up dead. After displeasing the warden, Frank winds up in isolation, portrayed as an utterly hellish experience. Somehow, “Lock Up” doesn’t contain any shower scenes or dropped soap. There’s no prison riot either though the guards still slip on some riot gear. “Lock Up” is most charming when focusing on the least expected elements. Such as the prisoners having cockroach races or First Base’s joy ride inside the stolen car.

“Lock Up” is not exactly a cheesy eighties action flick for most of its run time. That is, until the very end. Only a few days before he’s supposed to be released, Frank Leone’s girlfriend is threatened with rape and murder. He, once again, has to escape from his cell. Naturally, the threats were all a scheme to enact this exact behavior. Once in the bowels of the prison - which includes plenty of steam and rusty pipes, by the way - Frank is suddenly fighting prison guards to the death. What had simply been a prison flick then becomes an action flick, Stallone beating down his opponents with typical bluster and ease. There’s even a few violent deaths. The ending is easy to predict, once Sly has the bad guy right where he wants him, though there’s certainly something satisfying about seeing it play out.

“Lock Up” was released the same year as “Tango & Cash,” another Stallone movie partially set in prison. (This, weirdly, wouldn’t even be the last time Stallone made a film set in prison.) That film totally overshadowed this one, then and now. It’s not exactly shocking as “Lock Up” is a standards part flick that is fairly forgettable. However, that’s not always a bad thing. A decent supporting cast and an atmospheric location is sometimes all I need to like a movie. If you’re non-discerning and don’t mind seeing a script loaded with clichés, “Lock Up” is a decent time killer. [7/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[] Social Outcast
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

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