COVID-19’s cratering effects on society are impossible to ignore, even for the escapism of Hollywood movies. A few COVID-related films have found their way out of the patchwork, but most of these rushed efforts use their subject matter as an exploitable marketing ploy (the dreadful Songbird marked one of 2020’s worst films). The latest COVID-inspired heist dramedy Locked Down presents promise within its authentic set-up. Despite the potential, director Doug Liman mostly leaves audiences with a befuddling tonal mess.
Locked Down follows Linda (Annie Hathaway) and Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a couple in the midst of a break-up during the COVID-enforced lockdown. As the two grapple with the challenges of their predicament, they set their eyes on a heist to get revenge over ongoing corruption.
Any film boasting Hathaway and Ejiofor’s assured talents is undoubtedly better for it. The two commit to their archetype roles with the utmost sincerity, selling the character’s marital tension beyond what’s on the page. Hathaway’s cunning wit makes a great pairing with Ejiofor’s distinguished disposition, allowing for a few sharply-drawn sparring matches to take center stage. I was also pleasantly surprised by screenwriter Steven Knight’s dedication to intimate dramatic frames. Knight’s minimalistic effort puts character building in the foreground while also developing an authentic COVID portrayal around the periphery Unlike Songbird, this movie at least approaches it’s challenging subject matter with respect for its lingering hardships.
Admirable intentions aside, Locked Down doesn’t add much to the conversation. Knight’s story of two relatively well-off socialities feels oddly distant from the current struggles at hand. His script includes some familiar buzz words (Paxton heckles a guy who buys all the toilet paper), but his effort doesn’t engage with COVID’s deeper ramifications. The zeitgeist setting is instead utilized to highlight the duo’s repairing of marital trust.
While the actors make for capable sparring partners, neither talent develops palpable chemistry once the film forces its romantic subplot. Knight’s script reaches an awkward balance between studio comedy devices mixed with a more indie, character-driven approach. It doesn’t represent either tonality well in the process of the confusion. Several quirky inclusions, including Paxton reading poetry to locked-in residents, strain for comedic impact, yet most of the material lands with an uncomfortable thud. The jokes often range between over-written wordplay and simplistic references, rarely eliciting laughs despite the numerous attempts.
For a film presenting several promising qualities, Doug Liman’s effort lacks a playful spark. Liman’s capable hands as a genre filmmaker are reduced to sterile wide shots intermixed with some inconsistently-framed Zoom calls (Linda has a film-quality webcam while the other characters have choppy presentations). I was intrigued to see how the heist angle would play out, but it feels like an afterthought. Unlike Rob Savage’s well-constructed horror vehicle The Host, this effort feels painfully restricted by its COVID circumstances. Liman’s lack of scale and kinetic energy leads to the film dissipating before it ever takes off.
I give the team behind Locked Down credit for crafting a tasteful studio yarn within the restrictive circumstances. This fact still doesn’t compensate for the film’s distinct lack of presence, as Liman and Knight collaborate an empty effort reeking of studio mandates.
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