Serenity writer Steven Knight delivers a tone-deaf rom-com heist thriller that should come with its own social distancing warning
Despite being the writer behind great movies such as Eastern Promises and Locke, and the creator of TV's Peaky Blinders, Steven Knight’s career has faced a few missteps. 2019’s Serenity has already gone down in history as one of the stupidest movies of all-time and, somehow, Locked Down – directed by Doug Liman – lowers the bar even further. It’s a wildly aggravating pandemic-flavoured rom-com that doesn’t even have the decency to have a Serenity-esque bonkers twist, settling instead for unfunny jokes and a hateful lead couple.
This couple consists of frustrated ex-con Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and high-fashion bigwig Linda (Anne Hathaway). Their attempt to break up has been stymied by the 2020 Spring lockdown in the UK, forcing them to stay together in their spacious, three-storey London townhouse. From the off, the pair’s “woe is me” shtick is insufferable as they flounce around their bright, sleek home, trying to avoid each other while Paxton races his motorbike through the empty streets and Linda fires her employees over Zoom.
When encountering each other becomes unavoidable, their dialogue is so overwritten and flowery that it’s hard to know where the sincere arguments end and the jokes begin, while Ejiofor and Hathaway often look at a loss as to how they’re supposed to play these scenes. Knight tries to write Paxton as a poetic intellectual, but he instead comes off as a snobbish lunatic, while Hathaway (whose return to a Knight script after also starring in Serenity is baffling) has to grapple with moments in which Linda talks to the spirit of her dead, racist grandma, a conceit that feels ripped straight out of a bad student play.
Eventually, through a series of convoluted circumstances that don’t really make sense on paper (or in practice, truth be told), Paxton and Linda decide to steal a £3 million diamond from Harrods, which is in the midst of the chaotic process of relocating all its stock for lockdown. Somehow, the heist manages to be even duller than the domestic discontent, the shock value of Knight’s bottom-drawer writing wearing off and leaving boredom in its wake. It’s a shame, as the basic premise of a high-stakes lockdown caper could easily have made for entertaining viewing.
An empty – but not ruined – city is an evocative playground – one that Doug Liman could certainly make good use of, but Knight’s predictable, lazy plotting leaves no room for any imaginative set-pieces, more concerned as it is with squeezing in starry cameos over Zoom. Some of these are fun, particularly Ben Stiller popping up surrounded by his actual family as Linda’s dim boss, but they take up too much of an already bloated two hour runtime.
On top of everything else, Locked Down could not possibly be worse suited to the present moment. Yes, it is a film about the pandemic made and released during the pandemic, but it is so out of touch that the potential power of its immediacy is lost. Here is a film that treats COVID not as a direct threat to people’s health, finances, and homes, but as a temporary stumbling block for unhappy rich people who are still in the midst of finding themselves. Even if Locked Down was great, the appeal of an airy comedy about our current crisis would be limited. In its present, laughless state, though, it’s an actively loathsome proposition.
Locked Down is now available on HBO Max in the US. A UK release date is yet to be announced.Where to watch