One of Sylvester Stallone’s lesser-known efforts from the 1980s, StudioCanal has nonetheless given the prison drama Lock Up the 4K treatment, allowing Stallone fans the chance to own this curio in a fashion in which it has never looked better. Lock Up is certainly one that this admittedly quite Stallone-literate reviewer hadn’t seen before, and while it doesn’t stack up with some of the action icon’s better-known work, it certainly has enough going for it to please both Stallone and genre fans alike. 

Stallone plays Frank Leone, a mechanic and model prisoner who is coming to the end of his sentence in a low-security prison, looking forward to beginning his life with his girlfriend, Melissa (Darlanne Fluegel). Yet, with only a few weeks to go before release, Frank is taken from his cell in the dead of night and transferred to a maximum-security prison run by the sadistic warden, Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland). Keen to take revenge on Frank for having escaped a previous prison under his control and leaking to the press his brutal treatment of prisoners, Drumgoole is determined to ensure Frank stays under his watch for a very long time. 

Lock Up, for the most part, operates more as your archetypal prison drama than it does the kind of 80’s action movies that Stallone was known for at the time (his other release in 1989 was Tango & Cash, a film which is much more of a Saturday morning cartoon when compared to this). Lock Up certainly aims for a sincerity akin more to the Rocky films, and while the drama is often far too melodramatic to land as being all that emotionally compelling, there’s no denying there’s a strong entertainment factor in seeing these prison drama cliches play out. 

Much of the fun comes from the rather stylish way in which director John Flynn and cinematographer Donald E. Thorin (who, funnily enough, also shot Tango & Cash). With lots of expressive lighting and a stark cold colour palette really extenuates the bleakness of Drumgoole’s prison, giving the film more of a visual personality than you may perhaps been expecting. 

Story-wise, it is quite a clunky affair. A lot of the setup is delivered through some lead-heavy exposition with much of Frank and Drumgoole’s past being delivered in some loaded dialogue that is a little too convoluted for its own good. Once Frank starts to stake his place in the prison yard, the film becomes more engaging, with Frank making friends with a ragtag group of prisoners, including an engaging Tom Sizemore in one of his first big-screen roles. 

Performance-wise, Frank Leone is not one of Stallone’s more memorable characters. Very much following in the kind-hearted, yet tough when the moment arrives. Stallone doesn’t seem too tested by the material, and largely sleeps walks through it. Sutherland as well adds the appropriate amount of villainous sneer, but it’s also far from his more memorable work. In fact, it’s Sizemore’s that proves to be the most impactful when it comes to the performance stakes. 

Lock Up maybe a little too cliched and heavy-handed to mark itself as a classic of the prison drama sub-genre, but as a piece of 80’s action drama, it has its pleasures, largely from a strong sense of visual style, some fun performances, and an admittedly cheesy but also kinda sweet sense of melodrama.  

Dir: John Flynn

Scr: Richard Smith, Jeb Stuart and Henry Rosenbaum 

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Donald Sutherland, Tom Sizemore, John Amos, Sonny Landham, Darlanne Fluegal and Frank McRae

Prd: Charles Gordon and Lawrence Gordon 

DOP: Donald E. Thorin 

Music: Bill Conti 

Country: United States

Year: 1989

Runtime: 100 minutes


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