Picks and Pans Review: Lock Up

updated 08/21/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/21/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Sylvester Stallone, Donald Sutherland

You start out thinking this is no sweat. You can do your 103 minutes and get out clean. Start fresh. Never see another Stallone-in-prison movie again. And at the beginning, it goes okay. Stallone, it's true, is a convict, but he's only in for beating up some punks who attacked an old man, and he's not wearing a headband or an inordinate amount of body oil. He seems relaxed, perhaps because he's in a prison that looks like a fraternity house.

Then, however, Stallone is transferred to a maximum-brutality prison, where the warden, Donald Sutherland, has a grudge against him. It's clear Sutherland is mean, because he ignores inmate violence, likes sadistic guards and fiendishly shifts into a British accent at random moments. You begin to feel restless, pace the aisles and mark off the minutes you've spent in this joint on the side of your popcorn box.

Sutherland tells Sly, "This is hell, and I'm going to give you the guided tour." Now it's getting to you, and you rattle your paper diet-cola cup on the back of the seat in front of you. It doesn't make a satisfying noise, but it's all you've got. The usher comes, and you yell, "Get away from me, screw. You can't do nothin' to me that's worse than what I've seen already."

Stallone and other good-guy inmates are restoring a '64 Mustang that happens to be in a prison workshop. You contemplate how likely this might be. Stallone warns his pals about Sutherland, "Once you start buying into this 'our car, our thing' concept, you're his, too." You start making a plan to tunnel out under the candy counter and into the parking lot. If the tides are right, you should be able to swim the mall fountain before they even know you're gone, throw the dogs off the scent.

As Stallone alternates between charm and fighting bruising battles, you wonder why he couldn't find a lawyer to get him retransferred. You also wonder if maybe you couldn't find a mouthpiece to get yourself transferred to that Hulk Hogan movie, or even When Hairy Met Sally....

Sly finally decides to bust out, and just when he has almost made it, he goes to Sutherland's office, kidnaps him and takes him to the prison's electric chair. Luckily Sly can hot-wire this baby, so he threatens to fry Sutherland unless he confesses, which of course will stand up in court. That makes you think about taking the theater manager hostage and using him as a shield. By this time most of the audience would probably make the break with you.

But it's no use. They've beaten you down. Stallone is winning; Sutherland has caved in. It's getting hopeless. It's their system, and one lonely audience member hasn't got a chance against it.

You start thinking about that last meal: a jumbo popcorn, with double artificial butter, washed down by a box of Mason Dots. You ask around, hoping to find somebody with a harmonica. As your friends leave, they look back toward your row and hear the first bars wafting up the aisle, toward the light of freedom from the lobby, "Swing low, sweet chariot/ Coming for to carry..." (R)

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