Friday Fisticuffs: Lock Up (1989)

Sylvester Stallone’s Lock Up is not a good movie. I’m actually not sure whether to put it firmly in the “Bad” category or not, but as of now it’s getting spared. The plot revolves around Stallone, a guy who went to jail for beating up a guy who roughed up his father figure. While serving that sentence, Stallone broke out to see the old man before he died, which rubbed the warden, played by Donald Sutherland the wrong way. We learn all this later and start off with Stallone being taken by guards in the middle of the night and transferred to Sutherland’s jail, a real shithole. Apparently Sutherland holds a mean grudge and sets his sites on tormenting Stallone throughout the flick, using all sorts of devilish tricks from leaving him in the delousing fumes for too allowing a convict to threaten Stallone’s girlfriend. As if that element of the movie wasn’t ridiculous enough, we’re treated to some truly strange scenes of Stallone hanging out with some of his prison friends (like Tom Sizemore and Sonny Landham) in a garage where they not only get to work on a car and have paint fights (seriously, it feels like something out of an 80s car wash movie, but with sweaty dudes) but also be completely unsupervised.

Sutherland’s warden character comes off as one dimensional as possible. We’re not talking about a complex villain here, his ego is bruised because Stallone broke while under his watch. In the usual form, his friends become either victims or turncoats and Stallone has to exact his vengeance on his own. Being the good guy that he is, he only tries to break out again once he thinks his girlfriend is in danger. I’m not sure why his girlfriend didn’t try to get a lawyer, but I guess that’s some of that suspension of disbelief stuff.

Anyway, the point of Fisticuff Fridays isn’t to discuss the merit of a movie’s artistic integrity, but to talk about what’s really important: the action scenes. This flick has a few some of which are pretty intense actually. We start off light with a pretty rough and tumble football game to show that Stallone can hang with the prison’s big dogs (the main one of which is played by Billy from Predator). It’s pretty rough, but the cartoonish sound effects don’t help matters. Later, Stallone has a full-on brawl with Billy that’s pretty enjoyable as is the near-end battle between Stallone and the asshole guards you’ve been wanting to see dead since the 15 minute mark. The trick they pull is making Stallone SUCH a nice guy (in the beginning he’s playing football with kids, we see him try to stop a murder without calling attention to it and he even gives his cake to a prisoner trying to take it from another and no that’s not a euphemism) and then making the bad guys SUCH assholes, that you can’t help either rooting for him or getting a headache from so much eye rolling (and there’s a fair amount of that, trust you me).

So, if you’re into full-on action movies, this isn’t the Stallone movie for you. I’d go with Cobra, First Blood 2 or Expendables, but if you really dig on spray paint fights, weird male bonding, the occasional prison fight, muddy football scenes or movies that make you crave revenge then Lock Up will be perfect for you. In the end, I guess I’ll leave this one off the “Bad” list but might consider a “Cheesy” category for it and its ilk.

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