Lock Up

Stallone plays it safe in a prison actioner that cements his reputation as one of the biggest action stars of the 1980’s and 90’s.

The 80s was undeniably the Action Hero decade of modern day cinema with some of the most iconic action films ever made, from Die Hard (1988), Lethal Weapon (1987), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and the numerous James Bond incarnations. There is also little question that the top stars of the action genre was Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. These three actors performed in a combined 37 films during this ten year period.

Not only is Sylvester Stallone part of this legendary trio, his performances have arguably shown the most nuance and variance as the writer, producer, director and actor with 83 film credits and 40 years in the industry have shown with films that range from Rambo, Copland, Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot, and Oscar.

Lock Up falls perfectly within Stallone’s comfort zone as he plays Frank Leone, a working class mechanic, nearing the final six months of a prison sentence for a morally sympathetic crime. Life in prison is more of an inconvenience than a true hardship as the model prisoner’s friendships with fellow inmates and guards alike, and frequent day releases with his girlfriend, Melissa (Darlanne Fluegel) causing no discernible discomfort or distress. This comfortable arrangement, however, changes significantly as Leone is transferred to a high security facility with spiteful authoritarian Warden Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland) at the helm.

The history between the two men creates a deep-rooted hatred which motivates Drumgoole to ensure Leone’s incarceration is torturous, oppressive and prolonged as he manipulates and bullies guards, including Officer Meissner (John Amos) and inmate Chink (Sonny Landham) to incite and provoke further punishable criminal outbursts.

Despite the sustained provocation, Frank keeps his temper in check and even forges alliances and friendships with fellow inmates First-Base (Larry Romano), Dallas (Tom Sizemore) and Eclipse (Frank McRae). As a group they even rebuild a vintage car that equally galvanizes and dismantles the crew after First-Base’s exuberance ends in destruction, and eventually to the final inciting event that Frank can not leave unchallenged and retaliates to the pleasure of Drumgoole.

Lock Up is not the most violent or grittiest of prison films, it could even be considered quite cheesy and simplistic. There are plot holes and contrivances that are glaringly obvious and predictable in their necessity to motivate certain characters and outcomes, but none of these are serious considerations or criticisms when the end result is this much fun.

Stallone has made a lengthy and successful career out of being the likeable bad-ass with a cheeky sense of humour. His charisma is almost contagious as the supporting cast vie for comparable charm and levity, with Dallas more than equal to the task – Sizemore shines as the wisecracking “lifer” with dubious intentions. It is Donald Sutherland, however, who chews scenery as Warden Drumgoole that really blows life into the entire piece.

As the antagonist, Drumgoole is the driving force behind every twist and turn and he relishes the unchecked power and malice with thin-skinned, sadistic abandon. Sonny Landham’s Chink is also the perfect counterpoint to Stallone. Chink is brutal and humourless and motivated only by the suffering of others and the pleasure that brings him. The conclusion of the Chink and Leone rivalry is a battle between the engrained viewpoints of these convicted men. A struggle between hope and moral resignation. Frank utilises a more cerebral approach in orchestrating Drumgoole’s undoing.

It may not be as iconic as Rambo, Rocky or Cobra in the catalogue of Stallone’s work, but Lock Up is a captivating entry that deserves another look.

Bonus features:

  • Making of
  • Featurette: Sylvester Stallone
  • Behind the Scenes
  • Interviews: Sylvester Stallone, Donald Sutherland, Sonny Landham, John Amos
  • Darlanne Fluegel
  • Original Trailer

Updated: Sep 20, 2019

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
Lock Up | The Digital Fix