There comes a time every summer when the home-entertainment enthusiast finds him- or herself at a loss, surveying the options for a wind-down flick and finding them wanting. Or maybe this only happens to home-entertainment enthusiasts who write biweekly columns about newish home entertainment. After all, in this age of streaming, you can always, like, catch up on the first four seasons of Breaking Bad on your phone. That may be your best option, in fact, as the desultory new-release slate in these dog days often lacks even basic entertainment knack.
To be fair, that's not entirely true of Lockout (Sony Pictures DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming/download). But the potential seemed so much higher. A maximum-security-prison-in-space flick that mashes up the set-ups of Outland and Con Air (sort of) and Escape From New York and stars Guy Pearce? How can this not be fun? Give it to James Mather and Stephen St. Pierre to direct, apparently.
Pearce plays Snow, a wisecracking disgraced operative in a jam who finds himself detailed to break into said space pen to rescue the president's daughter (Lost's Maggie Grace), who has fallen into the foul mitts of the vicious space cons who have taken over the joint. Crappy action fun should ensue.
Lockout has one good villain, at least. Joseph Gilgun plays a psychotic space rapist who looks a bit like a hairy piece of tattooed gristle that the loser of some bet would have to eat; bonus points for an impenetrable Scottish accent. The fact that you start looking forward to him showing up on screen again does not speak well of the rest of this weird sci-fi farce. Pearce was born charismatic and does his best to make something happen here, but Snow's relentless deadpan wisecracking becomes a tedious tic more than a character trait. Grace never really expands to fit the big screen. And for every competent action bit there's an FX-muddled clam (a CGI-ed motorcycle chase that looks like a demo accidentally left in) or a moment of utter WTF (the third-act Star Wars-style space battle, no lie). Really, the fact that Pearce is in it is the only reason it seemed possible that it wouldn't suck. Maybe he needed a new pool so he wouldn't have to sit around all summer watching crappy movies.
Of course, you could do worse. You could rent Zyzzyx Road (Grand Entertainment Group DVD and streaming/download). Except you probably wouldn't, because it stars both Katherine Heigl and Tom Sizemore, plus some guy you've never heard of (Lou Grillo) who looks a bit like an extremely poor man's William Shatner. Grillo co-produced with director John Penney, and that probably explains how his feeble thespian chops wound up at the center of this low-budget dud. The reheated '90s noir set-up finds Grillo's tax accountant on the lam with Heigl's... slut? Hooker? It's never made clear exactly why she's hanging out with a stubby tax accountant, or, more accurately, it's never made plausible. And then there's the brazen notion that Heigl's character is underage. At least there are a few bitter laughs.
Anyway, this tawdry twosome is fleeing through the desert night because they think they've killed her jealous boyfriend. With a vibrator. The preceding sentence fragment is 100 percent true. But he's not dead, of course, which leads to Sizemore popping up periodically like a skeezy, menacing jack-in-the-box. And then there's a big twist, naturellement, but by that point the idea of spending another 45 minutes with these losers is enough to make you want to kill yourself with a vibrator. Fun fact: Why, yes, that is Rickey Medlock of Southern boogie also-rans Blackfoot playing a dude who lives in a trailer. Fun fact 2: When it was released in 2006 for a theatrical run (one screen in Dallas), Zyzzyx Road earned the distinction of becoming the lowest-grossing film of all time. It played six days and made $20. The story goes that it would have made $30 but one of the three people who paid to see it wanted a refund.
And then there's The Hunter (Magnolia DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming/download). It looks like possible crap, straight-to-video in spirit if not in actual business model, and it bears some of the hallmarks: The protagonist is the sort of secretive international operative that dull-normal screenwriters love. But the operative in question is played by Willem Dafoe (not straight-to-video quite yet), and instead of being out to, say, save the president's daughter from space prison, he's stalking the remote wilds of Tasmania for an extinct predatory marsupial, the Tasmanian tiger (a real creature, fwiw).
There's some far-fetched stuff about a biotech company, a dubious subplot about feuding loggers and eco-activists, and some wacky kids and their grieving-widow mom (Frances O'Connor), but director Daniel Nettheim gets a lot of mileage out of spending time in the starkly gorgeous Tasmanian backcountry with Dafoe and nobody else. By the end, the characters have sort of started to become people, and the film's eco-pretensions have been somewhat earned. A dab of unfortunate CGI and a glop of unfortunate melodrama notwithstanding. The Hunter is a decent slow-burning B thriller, and might help keep the couch slightly less boring until better movies start coming out.