Locked Down

★★★1/2

Many of us had enough of the pandemic, quarantine and 2020 in 2020. Producer Michael Bay and his co-conspirators had the first cinematic crack at the pandemic in last month’s “Songbird” (my review here). Whereas Bay opted to filter pandemic anxieties through a dramatic thriller spectrum, director Doug Liman and screenwriter Steven Knight have opted to express the same feelings via the romantic dramedy/heist picture “Locked Down” (now available on HBO Max).

The expediency with which Liman and Knight dreamt “Locked Down” up (July 1, 2020), sold it (September), filmed it (by the end of October) and released it (today) is mind-boggling. The movie itself is less so, but it’s better than many would lead you to believe.

Linda (Anne Hathaway) and Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are a London-based couple on the skids. Their relationship went kaput just as quarantine began, but had been slowly dying for some time. They’re now trapped together in their townhouse with resentments at full boil.

She’s worked her way up the corporate ladder and spends her days begrudgingly firing subordinates. He’s been furloughed from his job as a deliveryman and must sell off his prized Triumph motorcycle in order to kick up some scratch. The bike and the freedom it exemplifies brought the two together initially. Selling it will officially close the door on their relationship.

Further and fatefully complicating matters, Linda is tasked with overseeing a diamond worth three million pounds on display at Harrods department store and Paxton has been commissioned to transport it for sale. The ex-couple conspire to rip off the rock – a million pounds for her, a million pounds for him, a million pounds to the National Health Service. Will the theft bring the former lovers back together or further tear them apart?

A cavalcade of familiar faces turn up to lend support. “Ballers” co-stars Dulé Hill and Jazmyn Simon play Paxton’s half-brother and sister-in-law respectively. Ben Stiller plays Linda’s boss. Ben Kingsley plays Paxton’s boss. Lucy Boynton (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) and Mindy Kaling play Linda’s former co-workers. Stephen Merchant plays the Head of Security at Harrods. Most of these folks appear exclusively via Zoom.

I generally dig Liman’s directorial output. He’s a bit of a chameleon tackling comedies (“Swingers” and “Go”), action-thrillers (“The Bourne Identity”) and action-comedies (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) as well as sci-fi (“Looper” and “Edge of Tomorrow”), political (“Fair Game” (2010)), war (“The Wall”) and crime (“American Made”) pictures. “Locked Down” doesn’t feel very akin to Liman’s eclectic oeuvre. It feels more like a play (Granted, “The Wall” could’ve been a play too.) or like a lark Steven Soderbergh might’ve made somewhere along the way. Knight’s script feels like a first draft and it probably was considering the speed with which it was written, but it’s worlds better than Knight’s previous collaboration with Hathaway, 2019’s absolutely fucking bugnuts “Serenity.”

Hathaway and Ejiofor are kinda playing against type here. She chain-smokes cigarettes and is more of a wild child than her perpetual goody two shoes persona would suggest. He’s scruffier, funnier and less a paragon of wisdom and virtue than his characters normally are. Both Linda and Paxton are irritating at times (probably an offshoot of the subject matter), but they’re inherently watchable due to the talented actors portraying them.

Mileage will likely vary with these COVID-19 movies in the months and years to come. I liked “Songbird” more than most and that appears to be the case with “Locked Down” as well. This might have something to do with 2020 having been better to me than it was to most, which doesn’t mean I don’t have sympathy for those who’ve lost their lives, loved ones, jobs and businesses along the way. Sure, I was furloughed and ultimately laid off from my job, but that allowed me to focus my time and energy into pursuits that are far more enjoyable and rewarding. The first few months of quarantine are some of the happiest of my lifetime – I was able to slow down, to pause, to enjoy time with my wife and dog, to reflect and realize how truly fortunate I really am. I think these movies aren’t about dwelling in the past, but are more so hopeful for our collective future.

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