Lock Up Review

Gateway Prison is run by Warden Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland), forever stuck with an expressionless, vengeful stare as he seeks revenge on the man who almost ruined him, Frank Leone (Sylvester Stallone). That, or he’s still angry over the given name of “Drumgoole.”

Leone is the opposite, apparently proud of his name, and a guy who hangs around to keep the neighborhood kids involved in sports. He’s part of a minimum security prison with little in-time, until Drumgoole has him transferred to the walls of Gateway.

Lock Up has a way of building the audience up and then punishing them ruthlessly. It’s not unlike the actual character progression. Gateway has its safety nets, including a garage in which Stallone trains a young inmate about the ways inside the walls, and connects with a loudmouth who can weasel his way out (or into) anything.

Character set up is a crucial element, even if it’s struggling to push the narrative forward. A montage or two will break up the otherwise general structure, bringing this small crew of typical film misfits together. Bill Conti’s score fits both ends of Lock Up’s structure, from the quiet, key emotional scenes to the panic of relentlessly brutal guards closing in on their prey.

No question, Lock Up is ludicrous. Leone is pushed physically and mentally, Drumgoole torturing his latest acquisition with cold showers, isolation, uneven odds on the prison ground, and even murder. Friendly inmates begin dropping as Drumgoole’s patience wears thin, desperation setting in to keep Leone locked up for another 10 years. Even the prison guards begin questioning the methods.

Authority figures are built for hate, smug arrogance the only character trait. There’s not much to them, but for a guy movie, it’s all that’s required. This is a dirty, grimy, and sweaty movie with muscle cars and prison yard football. You can take that mixture to the bank for easy marketability, and despite that focused attempt at a demographic, Lock Up has a heart.

Even if the entire design is one of manipulation – a means of casting Stallone in something else the male audience will stand up and cheer for – Lock Up takes consideration of these characters, their needs, and their place. First Base (Larry Romano) carries an attitude destined to get him killed, with a reason for his outbursts. Leone and First Base take a time out inside of their work-in-progress classic car restoration to discuss their crimes and their women. It’s purposeful when considering the scope of the story, and their placement within. It’s a nice backing to the eventual outburst of violence.

Movie ★★★★☆ 

Lionsgate originally shuffled Lock Up onto Blu-ray in mid-2010. Here, with the Expendables 2 putting Stallone in the limelight, comes a three-pack. Bundled with First Blood and Cop Land, the disc is identical to the stand alone release. Literally, actually. It even has the same disc art.

The AVC encode isn’t without fault, and it’s not as if 2010 was that long ago. Scenes will see a bump from weak compression, taking a barely there grain structure and making it leap out of the frame. Couple that with a master that’s pushing a little too hard on the DNR button, and Lock Up tends to wander in terms of quality.

Most of the feature is devoid of grain, reducing the film stock’s grit and thus texture. Skin comes across as plastic (consistently in medium shots) while close-ups toy with videophile perceptions. There’s a wide gamut of quality between those tense, tight, and sharp zooms and the glaring downgrade when the camera pans back.

Black levels show age with hints of crush and odd glow (entirely digital in nature) that lessens their appeal. At least they’re deep enough to hide any additional concerns. The master used probably isn’t the best resolution money can buy, but on the flip side, the print suffers from few flaws. An odd speck or stray piece of dirt is the worst this 1989 feature will have to contend with.

Any fading or other age anomaly isn’t the print. That falls squarely on the lap of unneeded manipulation that saps some of the energy from the visuals. It’s funny how an attempt to make Lock Up look cleaner and more modern has aged it further.

Video ★★★☆☆ 

Remixed with a 5.1 make over, Bill Conti’s score will spread wide across the soundstage, albeit without much subtlety. Split into the stereos and surrounds, the sound is jumbled. Instruments bleed together at their peak, although the rather beautiful, simple piano piece is a stand out. There’s a hint of an echo that accompanies each key stroke.

Prison yards brighten up the audio with ambient chatter spreading around with little impact. It’s there, but hard to hear. Most of the material is centered.

You can choose a stereo mix too, although you’ll still be stuck with the low fidelity dialogue that lacks refinement either way. Character moments come across rough and coarse, a little older in terms of age. There’s room for clean up should Lionsgate ever see the need to double dip this one.

Audio ★★★☆☆ 

Everything in the bonus section is vintage, clearly pulled from the late ’80s, early ’90s. The VHS artifacts are a nice giveaway. A making-of carries interviews and stray behind-the-scenes footage, although for the latter, there’s eight minutes of raw material straight from the set. That’s interesting stuff.

A profile of Stallone is a promo, and five interviews elsewhere on the disc have some fresh content, although most of it is contained within the other extras. Some trailers and simple video/audio calibration tools bring an end to the disc.

Extras ★★☆☆☆ 

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.