A screwball diamond heist, they said. Starring Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor as a bickering couple who just broke up but are of course still crazy about each other, they said. Oh, and it’s from director Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow), who made the killer *snort* sexy-wacky assassin romantic comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith?
Sign me up, I said!
And yet: yikes.
If you thought it might be nice to be coronavirus Locked Down with Hathaway (Dark Waters, Ocean’s Eight) and Ejiofor (The Old Guard, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil)… my god. As a London couple who have grown apart and had decided to go their separate ways just before no one could go anywhere at all, they are excruciating to spend time with: their sniping is not entertaining, not enlightening, not even mildly interesting. It’s like being forced to listen to a couple that you’re kinda only barely acquainted with fight: it’s embarrassing for everyone, and there’s no escape.
Set during London’s first lockdown last spring and shot in a quick-fire COVID-safe production in the city last autumn, this is a deeply unsatisfying novelty artifact of this awful year, one with nothing authentic to say about it. It’s a painful jumble of all the worst parts of being stuck at home, and none of the benefits, however slight they might be. Hathaway’s Linda, a marketing executive, is forever taking pajama-bottomed, professional-on-top Zoom meetings with her colleagues, who are invariably played by famous faces popping up for socially distanced cameos (among them: Ben Stiller [Brad’s Status], Mindy Kaling [Late Night], and Claes Bang [The Girl in the Spider’s Web]). Ejiofor’s Paxton, a delivery driver, Skypes with his boss (barely-more-than-a-cameo Ben Kingsley: The Ottoman Lieutenant) and snipes at people from the grocery-store queue who are hoarding toilet paper. She day-drinks; he threatens to make bread; they manage to render miserable these tiny good things about pandemic life.
Forty minutes into this mess of attempts at humor dragged out till whatever life they might once have had has been thoroughly wrung out, and the movie has barely even gotten started. Linda is out in the street clapping for the NHS like she’s having a seizure. Paxton is getting high off the faux-opium bulbs in the garden (which a local hedgehog has also been enjoying). It feels improvised, but not in a good way, as if Locked Down were making it all up as it goes: Ejiofor and Hathaway are game, but they constantly seem to be grasping for something solid to hang on to, and not finding it. Apparently the script was written on a dare by Steven Knight (who previously found never-before-explored realms of cringe with his script for Serenity). It would have at least been polite to write a second draft, for the audience’s sake.
After a lot of awkward, unfunny relationship dramedy, Locked Down eventually — like, way past the one-hour mark — decides to consider maybe being a heist movie after all. Linda, you see, had organized some sort of show for a designer at upscale department store Harrods, but now the shop is closed and is shipping out the really valuable stuff to put in storage offsite for the duration of the crisis. So Linda has to collect her client’s wares, including a multimillion-dollar diamond, just as she has discovered a newfound despair of mindless consumerism and corporate bullshit (she’s had to fire some of her staff remotely at the direction of her superiors, and she’s not happy about it). And because she knows Harrods inside and out and has a delivery driver for a partner, heisting is gonna be easy-peasy. Probably.
Perhaps the most disappointing of all the many missed opportunities of Locked Down is the one that fails to create any sense of necessary transgression. A less rushed version of this story might have been able to capture that topsy-turvy sense of all bets being off, of rules not applying, of the pandemic as a boundary between the old world behind us and a new one to come. Of course, we’re still in the midst of this disaster, so cannot possibly have any hindsight on it yet, and we don’t know what’s next. But neither do Linda and Paxton! Even a regular-ol’ story about people trying to forge lives more true to themselves creates a mood of optimistic looking forward — or it does if it’s any good. Even an ordinary heist movie whips up an anticipatory mood of freedom and comfort to come when its thieves pull off their crime. And yet, with all this to work with, Locked Down lacks any audacity, and can’t muster anything more than a diffuse mush.