It's inevitable that artists will turn to their art to sort their way through times of crisis, whether it's directly addressing a crisis itself or through avenues of escapism (see: the slew of lockdown albums that have graced our ears). As such, films about the COVID-19 pandemic were always an inevitability. 'Locked Down' is one of the first films about the pandemic to have a wide release - but if this is what we can expect from the subgenre, studios need to quit while they are behind.
That's not to say 'Locked Down' doesn't show promise; quite the opposite, in fact. It centres on Linda (Anne Hathaway, 'The Witches') and Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor, 'The Old Guard'), a once-wild couple whose fiery passion has emphatically been snuffed out after a long time coming. It's a joint failure that also couldn't come at a worse time for their professional lives; Paxton's criminal record thanks to a one-off pub brawl has left him as an unfulfilled (and now unemployed) driver. Linda, on the other hand, has just been ordered to lay off her marketing team via Zoom by her jerk boss (Ben Stiller, 'Hubie Halloween'). Unfortunately for them though, London has been plunged into lockdown before they can finalise their separation, leaving Linda and Paxton sleeping in separate rooms and trying not to kill each other before their lockdown is over.
The chemistry between Hathaway and Ejiofor, in another director's hands, might have been enough to keep the project afloat; a chance to see how a relationship could break down and/or re-mend itself when there's no choice but to be with them every day. But director Doug Liman ('Chaos Walking', 'Edge of Tomorrow') doesn't trust 'Locked Down's' initial premise enough, and instead decides the film could work better as become a genre mash-up (the whole project reeks of something Steven Soderbergh would drool over). Through a series of all-too-convenient happenstances - Paxton's old boss needs drivers for a number of merchandise transfers to Heathrow Airport, including a £3 million diamond currently residing in department store giant Harrods. Linda, given her previous employment at Harrods (funnily enough), has been asked to oversee this very same transfer, as the diamond makes its way to its new owner, an unidentified power player, in New York. What better way to stick it to the world and take back the things Linda and Paxton have "lost" than to steal the diamond, replace it with the fake display version, split the loot, and maybe even fall back in love in the process?
There's a keen screwball nature bubbling under the surface of the film's first act... when it isn't drowning in heavy-handed exposition. Even down to the opening title cards, one can hear the hustle and bustle of a city busy before hard cutting to empty, silent London streets. It is even more strange how unbalanced and overdone 'Locked Down' is when one considers the man behind it. Writer Steven Knight's body of work could only be described as wild (if not always consistently good), but he has cut his teeth on the bottle-episode format (the brilliant one-man-show that is 'Locke') and mashing up genres (the absolutely insane 'Serenity', which also stars Hathaway). It would seem that on a surface level, Knight would be the perfect man to tackle 'Locked Down', but despite all the parts appearing ready to click into place, the final result is just spectacularly boring. Similarly, Hathaway's casting, while spot-on for a free-spirit-turned-neurotic-chain-smoking-control-freak like Linda and a perfect foil to Paxton's eloquent white flag-waving, doesn't lend itself favourably to the final act. We've seen Hathaway have the time of her life stealing diamonds from fancy places in 'Ocean's 8', and the mind can't help but reminisce on that experience or even wish it was watching that film instead of 'Locked Down' at times.
'Locked Down' would actually be fun if it didn't try to continually remind us of the mundanities of the pandemic right as many are still living through them: glitching Zoom calls, the news constantly on in Linda and Paxton's flat, and a pile of hand sanitiser bottles on their kitchen counter are just a few moments that come to mind. There's no satire there, and in this permutation serves no other purpose than to instantly time stamp the film (the best time-capsules-as-films actually have something to say about that time rather than just present it without comment). At a point, you're shocked a character hasn't just straight out said, "2020, am I right?" It's a purely first world-look at an issue that some countries are still struggling with, some have been able to combat, and others are just wishing will go away. What's worse is that these moments that should come off feeling natural since, you know, everyone has been living through this pandemic together, instead are so overwritten that it borders on exposition from a bad soap. Look no further than five minutes into the film where an awkward plot reveal involving an extramarital affair comes off as if the cast is reading the script for the first time.
There is a much funnier version of 'Locked Down' somewhere, but Doug Liman, Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor can't seem to find it for the life of them.
The final, most baffling aspect of this entire project, is despite the very clear distinction that this film is taking place during the pandemic, many of the characters in the final act (including Linda and Paxton) are incredibly lax with their wearing of masks in Harrods. The opportunity for humour in watching the characters try and work together without being able to read lips (and a great chance for these talented actors to flex) is lost and save for a running gag with Paxton's ID name, the heist feels as empty as the incredible department store Linda and Paxton run around in to pull off their plan.
Perhaps the most disappointing takeaway from 'Locked Down' is that there is a much better, much crazier, much funnier version of this film somewhere in here, but Liman, Hathaway and Ejiofor can't seem to find it for the life of them. Perhaps if they had found it, this project would really be able to reflect the craziness we all felt during our first lockdown, one that would match and justify the heist itself. I'm sure far more tasteless pandemic-themed films will cross our screens in the distant future, but 'Locked Down' is so bland that it's hard to imagine anyone will be able to tackle such a present and ongoing issue with any real grace for years to come.