Directed by John Flynn
August 4, 1989
Frank Leone (Sylvester Stallone) must survive prison after being transferred to a facility run by a warden with a personal grudge against him.
Frank is one of those impossibly noble criminals that even though what he did was a crime he should not have wound up in prison because of a convoluted set of extenuating circumstances and his good intentions. I will not bother you with the circumstances in this case because the reasons behind his initial imprisonment were ridiculously complicated. Characters like this by and large only existed in the 80s. The noble criminal caught in a messy knot of circumstances that sent him to the big house but should not have.
Not only should Frank not have been in prison but the grudge that Warden Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland) has against him is unjustified because Frank had decided to escape to see his childhood mentor be buried because Drumgoole had denied him leave. The bad press that followed got Frank transferred to a nicer prison as well as virtually no consequences, and it did also all but end Drumgoole’s career.
The whole movie is about Drumgoole trying to break Frank’s spirit and Frank not breaking under the pressure. Frank is extremely positive and kind of philosophical and way too good of a prisoner. In fact, all the prisoners are way to good to be prisoners unless they are Drumgoole’s henchmen. Then they are some of the most dangerous and vile people you can find in the prison system and are all out for a piece of Frank. Sonny Landhan is particularly over the top as Chink Weber.
And how can I skip talking about the guards. In the prison where the bulk of the film is at, the characters of the guards break into two camps. Downright criminal and unnecessarily tough. The ones that are downright criminal border on campy in their evil but the ones that are unnecessarily tough are played more as unnecessarily tough but fair. Captain Meissner (John Amos) and one other guard see Frank’s spirit and what Drumgoole is doing and it changes them for the better.
They even have the inmate that Frank must take under his wing and guide and who eventually becomes a surrogate son to Frank but meets a tragic end at the behest of the warden. First Base (Larry Romano) is way too naïve to be real even in this film universe.
This was an early film role for Tom Sizemore as Dallas. He is the type of inmate that can get anything if you just give him time. Why he is not using this skill to build a nest egg in prison is a question that cannot be answered. He was probably the best dramatic performance out of all of them though.
The resolution is a bit on the ridiculous side. I understand it was the 80s and Hollywood has never ever really been in the business of producing fact or reality-based films but forcing a public confession out of someone just does not seem possible in even the most ridiculous of worlds. And if it did work well enough to get the individual to trial, it would be tossed so fast it would break the light speed barrier.
The movie presents itself initially to want to be some deep and meaningful drama when it is laughably melodramatic and painfully corny. As the film goes on it looks like they could not decide if they wanted to make this some kind of action film or a serious drama and the end product was a bit of a mess.
In Lock Up we even have a genuinely inconsequential girlfriend in Melissa (Darlanne Fluegel) that is there to facilitate the resolution and provide angst ridden pleas to the unfeeling and cold guards in this 1800s style prison. She is so inconsequential that Meissner registers more in the closing scene that she does.
The biggest problem Lock Up has is despite its setting and despite those in it, the action and the story are only just so-so. It never rises to what it could be. I am not saying it could have been a hard-hitting prison drama or an amazing action film set in a prison, but it could have been something more entertaining than what it was. This is worth watching if you are a fan of Sylvester Stallone but not for any other reason. So then if you want.