Susie Allnutt/HBO MAX
And so it begins, the era of PSE (Pandemic Specific Entertainment): Locked Down may not be strictly the first film to set itself in a COVID-19 world, and it surely won't be the last. But it does have the singularity of being a sort of scrappy, quarantined Mr. and Mrs. Smith, helmed by the same man who actually brought you that movie the first time.
Director Doug Liman — also the hand behind Edge of Tomorrow and The Bourne Identity, among other cinematic escape pods — has the advantage, too, of two captive movie stars (Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor). They're Linda and Paxton, a couple who've lost their spark long before a lethal flu came along. She's the harried London bureau chief of a vague international business consortium; he's a clinically depressed delivery-van driver who wanders into the road at night to shout D.H. Lawrence poems at their captive neighbors.
What — besides their implausibly gorgeous rowhouse and a government-mandated stay-at-home order — still holds them together? Once, it's made clear, they were crazy about each other: he a sex machine on a motorbike, she the girl happily riding behind. But a bad night at a bar has left him with a criminal record that killed his employability, while her corporate star has continued to rise; now their love, like his job, is on furlough.
Except she's beginning to have serious doubts about the moral compass of her company, and the fact that Paxton's been asked to pick up a £3 million jewel transfer at Harrod's commissioned by her own blithely venal CEO (Claes Bang) starts to seem less like coincidence than fate. It's almost as if the universe wants these two crazy kids to start criming, and get away with it.
Susie Allnutt/HBO MAX
There's a lot of silliness in the script's fizzy, frantic mix between rom-com and caper, and more than a little straining to tell a story so naturally boxed in by its setting. Liman and writer Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders, Eastern Promises) have numerous ways of getting around that, mostly involving Zoomed-in guest stars and dialogue that leans heavy on exposition. (Knight at least has some solid previous experience with confined spaces, via the clever 2013 Tom-Hardy-trapped-in-an-SUV thriller Locke).
If Hathaway and Ejiofor are sometimes saddled with talky theatrical monologues that sound far more like a screenwriter's fever dream than the words of any ordinary human, they also commit in a way that manages to makes the leaps in tone and logic work, probably better than they should. (There's a great trio of terrible bosses in Zoom form too, between Bang, Ben Stiller, and Ben Kingsley, amongst the winky sprinkling of celebrity whack-a-mole cameos.)
As a heist movies go, Locked Down (streaming Thursday on HBO Max) is hardly Oceans 2; Linda's master plan likely couldn't withstand the sustained scrutiny of a Scooby Doo episode. Somehow though, it's still gratifying to see people on screen going through the same peculiar mix of madness, mood swings, and claustrophobia we've come to know so well over the last 10 months, give or take. Stars! They're just like us — but at least they might get diamonds out of it. B