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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Locked Down

Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor can't save this lockdown rom-com and heist flick from being dull, creaky, contrived and repetitive.
By Sarah Ward
May 06, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
May 06, 2021
  shares

Sparked by the pandemic, lockdown films aren't just an exercise in adapting to stay-at-home conditions — or a way to keep actors, directors and other industry professionals busy and working at a challenging time. The genre also provides a window into how the creatives behind its flicks view everyday life and ordinary people. Arising from a global event that's placed many of the planet's inhabitants in similar circumstances, these features tell us which stories filmmakers deem worth telling, which visions of normality they choose to focus on and who they think is living an average life. With Malcolm & Marie, a hotshot young director and an ex-addict were the only options offered. In Language Lessons, which premiered at this year's virtual Berlin Film Festival, a wealthy widower and a Spanish teacher were the movie's two choices. Now Locked Down directs its attention towards a CEO and a courier, the latter of which stresses that he's only in the gig because his criminal record has robbed him of other opportunities. Yes, these movies and their characters speak volumes about how Hollywood perceives its paying customers.

That's not the only thing that Locked Down says. Verbose to a farcical degree — awkwardly rather than purposefully — this romantic comedy-meets-heist flick is primarily comprised of monologues, Zoom calls and bickering between its central couple. Well-off Londoners Linda (Anne Hathaway, The Witches) and Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor, The Old Guard) are weeks into 2020's first lockdown, and their ten-year relationship has become a casualty. Whether chatting to each other or virtually with others, both commit a torrent of words to the subject. Linda has decided they're done, which Paxton has trouble accepting. She's also unhappy with her high-flying job, especially after she's forced to fire an entire team online, but gets scolded by her boss (Ben Stiller, Brad's Status) for not telling her now-sacked colleagues they're still like family. Tired of driving a van, Paxton is willing to do whatever his employer (Ben Kingsley, Life) needs to climb his way up the ladder. That said, he's still tied to the road, with the ex-rebel's decision to sell his beloved motorbike — a symbol of his wilder youth, and its fun, freedom and risks — hitting hard.

As Linda and Paxton argue about their past together and future potentially apart, vent frustrations about their locked-down present, and chat with co-workers (including Late Night's Mindy Kaling, The Father's Mark Gatiss, Jojo Rabbit's Stephen Merchant and The Last Vermeer's Claes Bang) and family members (Ballers co-stars and real-life couple Dulé Hill and Jazmyn Simon), at no point do they resemble real people. Rarely does anything that comes out of their mouths sound like something that someone might actually say, either. And, while the stresses of working remotely, being unable to leave the house and having normality put on hold should be relatable — we've all been through it — every aspect of Locked Down's script feels forced. That includes its relationship insights, which are hardly romantic, comedic or wise, even when showing that the most devoted of couples can find their patience tested when the days never seem to end. When Linda and Paxton's professional worlds collide, tasking her with removing a £3 million diamond from Harrods, him with ferrying it to safety and the pair with possibly stealing it for themselves, the plot development smacks of screenwriting laziness and convenience.

Steven Knight does the scripting — and although Locked Down arose in a hurry, this isn't the first time that the screenwriter has penned something dull, grating, contrived and often ridiculous. When he's at his best, TV series Peaky Blinders, the Ejiofor-starring Dirty Pretty Things, David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises and Tom Hardy one-man-show Locke are the end results. At his worst, he pumps out the abysmal Hathaway-starring Serenity — a movie so awful that it almost defies belief — and now this. Locked Down's missteps are many, and plenty stem from the script. It repeatedly mistakes more dialogue for more drama, for instance. When it isn't insulting everyone who isn't a CEO, it's whining about pandemic restrictions, with its complaints outdated a year ago and ancient now. But director Doug Liman can't escape responsibility for Locked Down's many struggles. Fresh off of the long-delayed, also-terrible Chaos Walking, the filmmaker who shot banter so engagingly in Swingers, Go and even Mr and Mrs Smith just seems happy to let the camera keep rolling here. The man who made Edge of Tomorrow also treats his big Harrods heist as if he was Richard Linklater filming a walk-and-talk for a Before Midnight sequel called During Lockdown.

Perhaps Liman expected his two leads to shine so brightly that they'd carry the two-hour film. They're asked to, but no one could sparkle with this material. Hathaway yells into pillows, swans around in colourful pyjama pants and dances to Adam and the Ants' 'Stand and Deliver' like she's on a stage trying to emote to people in the street outside the theatre. While Ejiofor fares slightly better — when he's not waxing lyrical about a hedgehog he's named Sonic (of course), licking opium from the couple's townhouse garden or airing stale stay-at-home grievances  — the existential angst that's baked into his performance gets swallowed by the movie's overall listlessness. You could generously read Locked Down's tedium and monotony as intentionally reflecting the malaise of the last 15 months, but every choice that Liman and Knight makes refutes that idea. There's smugness and pompousness to this never-funny film instead, and it screams of its key creatives thinking they know what COVID-19-era life is like, and that they can turn the situation into something witty and thrilling. They don't and they can't, at least in this feature. Visually, the movie brightens at Harrods, but its third-act wander through the famed department store really just shows what could've been. A far shorter picture with less repetitive griping and more of absolutely anything else mightn't have made viewers feel as if they too are stuck home with someone they hate, for example.

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