Lock Up (1989 USA)

(Living the dream. Sly’s got a new boyfriend and some cat food. Talk about Mr Hollywood!) Frank Leone (Sylvester Stallone) is a saint. Literally. He has to do time in the big house for avenging the brutal beating of an elderly man. And he’ll only break out of prison if there’s a funeral for a loved one, or the old man that he avenged. Then back to his cell he will go like a good ‘un. Heck, when he has any free time he even spends it with his kids. And not even his blonde girlfriend, looking on approvingly, can stop him. Not a racist bone in his body either, but as an Italian stallion, he can see through those racist Anglo-Saxon types. Like warden Drumgoole and his guards, Manly and Wylie. These are the bad dudes. Lock Up isn’t subtle.

We first meet our hero, Frank Leone, spending his time at a comfortable minimum security joint – Treadway – with all the trimmings: including weekends and conjugal interruptions, even friendships with the guards! No wonder his nemesis later sneers that Treadway is a “country club.”  His release is approaching when suddenly he is awakened in the middle of the night and taken to a brutal, maximum-security prison – Gateway – where he is to spend the rest of his sentence. It’s called a “routine transfer,” although he has done nothing to deserve such an upgrade in security status and even his wife is not informed of what happened to him. He learns that he is being transferred to the prison of Warden Drumgoole (the very silver haired Donald Sutherland), who was in charge of the prison that Leone escaped from, which in turn made it into the papers and ruined Drumgoole’s career.

Now he has his chance for revenge, and he plans to arrange for Leone to spend the rest of his life in this prison. The film carelessly glosses over the ease with which Drumgoole plucks Leone out of his own prison with no explanation to those in charge there. Then the conflict immediately switches to Leone trying to survive in this violent prison and stay out of trouble so he doesn’t screw up his chances of getting released on time so he can go back to his family. Drumgoole pulls out all the stops in violating the law that his institution is designed to uphold so that he can keep this one guy down. And Leone faces all manner of challenges ranging from shank-laden inmates to one of his inmate buddies who steals the Mustang they’ve all restored together, proceeding to tear all over the prison yard doing doughnuts. There’s even time for a musical number that pays tribute to the cherry coloured vehicle.

It must be said, however, that that scene runs far too long into a beyond-cheesy and awkward male-bonding level. Here the cringe factor goes off the charts as the inmates indulge in a little spray painting hi-jinks. But its all good clean fun until warden Drumgoole’s goons come along to smash up the car with baseball bats. At this point, Adam’s apples go into spasm and tears are wept. But there’s nothing gay going on so don’t worry. All in all, Lock Up is over-the-top entertainment. Not even the great Donald Sutherland seems able to do anything with his role, although he tries out three different accents. And despite using real life inmates for crowd scenes, (who scrawled obscene graffiti about Stallone and his ex-wife Brigitte Nielsen on the prison walls) they come across as just a bunch of extras from a central casting agency. My favourite line is from the most brutal inmate who asks the young man: “When are you going to start painting your nails and answering to the name bitch?” This is priceless Americana.



  1. Hilarious review, I love it! I knew I was in for a good time when the opening paragraph had me laughing out loud! I’ll definitely have to check out this film. 😎

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lol! Thank you. 🙂


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