LOCK UP: Or, Rocky Balboa Goes To Prison

A classic-era Stallone film hits 4K Blu-ray

1989’s Lock Up feels custom built from the ground up to be a Sylvester Stallone movie. As an unabashed fan of Stallone’s filmography, I don’t count this as a knock against the film, but your mileage may vary. Here Stallone plays Frank Leone, a chatty, blue collar, meat and potatoes kind of guy whose positive outlook on life, ties to the community, and love of a good woman give him the heart and fire he needs to make it through a benign prison sentence that turns into a nightmarish fight for his life.

Swap out Frank Leone for Rocky Balboa, or perhaps even Lincoln Hawk (Over The Top) or Johnny Kovak (F.I.S.T.) and Lock Up could be another installment in several other entries to the Sylvester Stallone cinematic universe. But it truly does feel like Rocky Balboa headed to the klink. (There’s even a Bill Conti score!) And that might feel novel if Stallone didn’t also have quite a bit of a prison motif in his body of work as well. From Tango & Cash (also 1989) to the now 3-films-strong Escape Plan franchise… we’ve certainly seen Sylvester Stallone going to, and breaking out of, prisons. Lock Up just happens to be one of the first. This kind of formula is cinematic comfort food for me, however, so I quite enjoyed my melodramatic journey into Leone’s prison hell.

When we first meet him, Leone is in his auto body shop reminiscing about his father figure who raised him. Soon enough a customer walks in to banter with him and within moments the charade is dropped and they’re embracing and kissing. It’s Melissa (Darlanne Fluegel), the love of Frank’s life. A moment after that, Frank’s outside playing a wintery round of street ball with a bunch of neighbor kids, and then it’s revealed that he’s headed back to minimum security prison as his weekend furlough comes to an end. Even as he’s processed back into prison, it’s clear that Frank is a beacon of positivity, and that everyone loves him. He’s such an angel it feels like he’s bringing the whole prison up rather than it dragging him down. It’s almost impossible not to feel shades of Rocky as Frank plays with local kids and walks down a wintery street charming his girlfriend with chatty banter.

But mysteriously, Frank is snatched up in the middle of the night and transferred to a maximum security prison. Donald Sutherland’s Warden Drumgoole (best villain name ever) has a sadistic plan in mind to break Leone and keep him in prison for a very long time. Some slapped together exposition tells us that Frank had escaped from prison previously in order to see his father figure before he died. (An angelic and magnanimous reason to escape). This had cost Drumgoole his pride and reputation, so there will be hell to pay.

What follows is equal parts melodrama and amped up action film as Drumgoole designs an array of situations, attacks, prison yard football games, and double crosses designed to break Frank. But meanwhile, Frank’s indomitable spirit shines as he forms a crew of friends and begins to win over the hearts and minds of the prison population. It’s a beautiful (if unfamiliar here in 2019) sentiment that he with the most heart and the most righteous cause will ultimately win the day over the self-interested and pointedly evil holders of power. It’s the kind of stuff movies are made for. Of course Frank Leone, the convicted criminal with a heart of gold, will win the day in this Hollywood production. But the entire premise does feel ripe for the silver screen while ignoring the crumbling legal system that exists in actual reality all around us today.

Real world issues aside, there are a couple of other issues with Lock Up that hold it back from greatness. While Donald Sutherland is, of course, tearing up the scenery as the villainous Drumgoole, the character is dimensionless. He’s exclusively featured in scenes of villainy and cravenness, and never fleshed out in any way as a character. A host of decent to great character actors make up Frank’s gang of chums and antagonists. (Tom Sizemore, Sonny Landham, and John Amos stand out). And while there’s some sweetness between them, not to mention a killer montage where they fix up a muscle car in the prison’s auto shop, you kind of know which of them will end up dead meat and plot fodder for the ultimate war between Leone and Drumgoole.

There’s very little to be found in Lock Up that will surprise you. But if that tried and true Stallone formula of hearts on fire leading the everyman to win the day works for you, you’ll likely find yourself as charmed by Lock Up as I was.

The Package

I mention this often when discussing 4K releases: The movie looks great, but I’m not sure I can distinguish how much better it looks in 4K than it would have in 1080p high definition. I’m extremely familiar with Sylvester Stallone’s face, however, and the quality of the image here is perhaps best perceived when the camera is trained on 1989 Sylvester Stallone’s youthful and distinctive mug. So while I’m certain the movie has never looked better, this isn’t a case where the 4K visuals dropped my jaw onto the floor.

It also feels like a fairly random title to make the big leap to 4K UHD, but I’m not complaining. Lionsgate has been bringing the Rambo films to 4K and even the original Escape Plan as well, so they’re just in the “bringing Stallone to 4K business” and I’ll be right there cheering them on in that regard.

Lock Up features a whole bunch of archival making of features including interviews with Stallone and Sutherland on set. It’s fluffy stuff but you love seeing these archival interviews capturing a certain time and place some 30 years later.

Stallone fans will have a field day with this release and I’ll certainly be proud to own Lock Up in 4K as a part of my collection. But this isn’t likely to be a “must own” release for any who aren’t card carrying Stallone fanatics.

And I’m Out.

Lock Up arrives on 4K Ultra HD™ Combo Pack (plus Blu-ray™ and Digital) and Digital 4K Ultra HD September 10 from Lionsgate

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