Locked Down wants to be the film of this pandemic moment but is instead tiresomely repetitive, tonally chaotic, and already outdated.
A January 6th puff piece from Variety lays out the wildly accelerated production schedule of the new Covid-19 heist-comedy Locked Down, detailing how director Doug Liman and screenwriter Steven Knight conceived of the project in July 2020, secured independent financing based on a half-finished script in September, and had wrapped filming by the end of October. As the article-cum-free-advertisement points out ad nauseam, it’s a remarkable feat, a true miracle of logistics, timing, and fortuitous good luck. What’s most remarkable is that, like last month’s apocalyptic YA romance misfire Songbird, there’s no real reason for Locked Down to exist at all. It is a monument to itself, existing only to prove that content can be manufactured no matter what the circumstances.
It’s not entirely accurate to call Locked Down a heist film, mostly because the act of thievery that the marketing hook puts front and center barely occupies 30 minutes of the film’s interminable 2-hour runtime. It’s instead a “comedy of remarriage,” albeit not a particularly funny one. The film begins with long-suffering couple Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Linda (Anne Hathaway) attempting to share their home after breaking up right as the U.K. lockdown began. He’s depressed, dreaming about the good old days and wondering when he became so safe and boring. She’s all business, having quickly moved up the ranks of some nebulous fashion accessory company and seemingly sick and tired of Paxton’s morose bullshit. Ejiofor and Hathaway are both very talented performers, and each does their best to sell their respective mid-life crises — there’s a corrosive, acerbic quality to their interactions, some of which are amusing in a flustered, exasperating kind of way. Unfortunately, Liman and Knight keep viewers locked up inside with this unhappy couple for the better part of an hour, and any charm or novelty inherent to the scenario quickly evaporates as these people air the same grievances over, and over, and over again. Knight seems determined to touch on any bit of topicality he can cram in, as Paxton visits the grocery store, complains about masks, and confronts someone over hoarding toilet paper (an admittedly funny line: “Hey, how many assholes do you even have?”). Meanwhile, Linda lays off some workers and starts smoking again, and all of this while the screenplay awkwardly fills in their shared past with forced exposition. The two tend to talk past each other in long monologues, an apt enough device for a couple who can no longer communicate but one that, like everything else in the film, becomes tiresome through repetition. There are some bizarre cameos, with actors like Ben Stiller, Mindy Kaling, Ben Kingsley, and Stephen Merchant literally phoning in their performances via Zoom. It breaks up the monotony, but otherwise comes across like a silly gimmick, just some bored celebs goofing around.
Eventually, the heist aspect comes into play, as Paxton’s freight driving job finds him removing valuable jewels from a Harrod’s display. Coincidently, the goods belong to Linda’s company, and she has been tasked with shipping the jewelry to New York. Another coincidence, Linda worked at Harrod’s for years, knows people that still work there, has an intimate knowledge of the store’s layout, and even how their security works. The plan: to swap a $3 million diamond for a replica before shipping off the sealed container, which no one will be accompanying due to Covid restrictions. The plot gives the film a shot of much-needed energy late in the proceedings, but even here the couple talks and talks and talks about whether or not to go through with it, and Knight can’t help but turn the theft into a symbolic moral act. Complications ensue, but the happy ending is never in doubt. Ultimately, Locked Down wants very much to be a product of this pandemic moment. But as cities around the world have lifted multiple stay-at-home restrictions and Covid continues to run rampant, with a disturbingly high death count all the more horrible for various governments’ seeming disinterest in taking measures to curb it, Locked Down is already dated, an unnecessary and unedifying document of Fall 2020. Liman, never a noted stylist even in his better films, is content to imitate the glitchy tech of Zoom calls, while littering his frame with screens and devices and pop-up windows. As a kind of present-tense aesthetic, this is already a cliché, and one that Songbird did better. Knight’s screenplay is a disorganized mess, taking the vibe and structure of a screwball comedy and weighing it down with endless subplots and wild vacillations of tone. But if you need a reminder of how intolerable the last 10 months have been, well then now you have at it.
You can stream Doug Liman’s Locked Down on HBO Max beginning on January 14.