Anyone who has felt their relationship tested by quarantine (no need to raise hands, we see you) will at least partially relate to “Locked Down,” which takes the idea of a couple trapped by those circumstances, then builds an improbable heist plot around it. Thanks to Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anne Hathaway it’s mildly watchable, but mostly an artifact that might look better after a few years in the Covid time capsule.
The film is notably just the latest attempt to corral the strangeness of the pandemic and turn that into drama, including a number of limited series and specials made for TV and streaming. The main difference here involves the marquee stars (plus some amusing Zoom-call cameos), working with “The Bourne Identity” director Doug Liman (whose most germane credit here might be “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”) and writer Steven Knight (“Peaky Blinders”).
Living together in London, Ejiofor’s Paxton has just been furloughed from his van-driving gig, while his partner Linda (Hathaway) is forced to lay off some of her company’s workers. That only adds to the shared sense of malaise and discomfort, since Linda — first seen screaming into a pillow — had been “planning to end our thing” before the lockdown kept them at least physically together.
The tension in the relationship comes spewing out in a lot of rapid-fire dialogue, almost like an Aaron Sorkin movie, only there’s not much room to walk while talking.
“I’m not normal lately, I know that,” Paxton admits, before going out into the street to read poetry, loudly, as a means of “entertaining our fellow inmates.”
Like most shot-under-quarantine productions, it’s intriguing for about 30 minutes or so, thanks in part to the charismatic leads. For the next half-hour, most viewers — like their predicament — will probably have seen enough and just want to get out.
The second half, though, takes a marked turn, as an opportunity presents itself for the two to collaborate on absconding with a priceless (OK, extremely valuable) piece of merchandise. The scenario creates uncertainty about whether they’ll actually go through with the scheme, if they’ll get away with it, and whether sharing such an endeavor can repair the damage done between them.
Along the way, the pair chat with various friends and co-workers played by the likes of Ben Stiller, Ben Kingsley and Dule Hill, but this is mostly a two-handed card game.
Once again, it’s possible to admire the ingenuity — and in this case, the central performances — without finding the result particularly satisfying. Seeing glamorous people engaging in mundane, getting-under-each-other’s-skin bickering doesn’t necessarily make that a whole lot more fun.
Distributed by Warner Bros. amid the studio’s strategy of launching its 2021 slate on HBO Max (like CNN, both units of WarnerMedia), “Locked Down” is the kind of small-boned movie that doesn’t lose anything on a streaming platform. Creatively speaking, it actually might gain something after a few years in the vault, but for now, it falls somewhere in the realms of “Not enough” and “Too soon,” take your pick.
“Locked Down” premieres Jan. 14 on HBO Max.