“Lock Up” (citywide) is yet another Sylvester Stallone macho fantasy in which he plays an underdog of superhuman endurance. Once again, his ability to survive extreme brutality is used to justify equally savage acts of revenge. As experienced a rabble-rouser as Stallone is, he by now defies credibility to the point of inviting unintended laughter.
As a convict at the mercy of Donald Sutherland’s crazy prison warden and his equally sadistic goons, Stallone survives one horrific physical and psychological assault after another, yet emerges after each hideous session as smiling and relaxed as if he had spent a weekend in Palm Springs. Increasingly, Stallone has become the hero of live-action cartoons.
In his own view, Stallone’s Frank Leone ought never have gone to prison in the first place. He was only avenging his foster father, an auto mechanic, after the old man had been attacked by thugs with “connections” that enabled them to get Leone sent up. When Sutherland’s hateful Warden Drumgoole refuses to allow Leone a deathbed visit to his foster father, he breaks out, even though his sentence has only two weeks to run. The incident draws Leone additional time at a “country club” facility, but it also generates bad publicity for the warden, who is transferred to the notorious old Gateway penitentiary, a vast pile with an immense copper Beaux Arts dome. (All this has happened before the picture starts--and thus requires a heavy dose of exposition.)
In the darkness of night, the warden somehow manages to have Leone moved to Gateway, where he will have six months in which to destroy the convict. The warden may be a man obsessed, but Stallone’s writers make sure their star has plenty of scenes in which he can display his good-natured camaraderie with the nicer convicts. Consequently, “Lock Up” veers constantly between unabashed sentimentality and unspeakable violence, all of it underlined broadly by Bill Conti’s score.
As supremely silly as “Lock Up” (rated R) essentially is, it is the work of film makers who know exactly what they want and how to get it. Lean and tough, Stallone looks great, and so does this film. Although at 108 minutes it’s overly long, it moves well under John Flynn’s slam-bam, pumped-up direction. Much of the time Stallone is laid-back and humorous, confident enough in his star power to allow his supporting players showy turns: John Amos (as the warden’s adamantine but reflective second-in-command), Sonny Landham (as a looming, vicious con who does the warden’s bidding), Tom Sizemore (as the garrulous prisoner Dallas), Frank McCrae (the hulking, kindly Eclipse) and Larry Romano (as the doomed, 20-year-old First Base).
Sutherland seems to have tongue firmly in cheek, and Darlanne Fluegel has precious few moments as Leone’s rather dim-seeming fiancee. (Why doesn’t she get the press to investigate Leone’s transfer, for example?). As for Stallone, he’s overdue in stretching his talent, not just his muscles.