Lock Up (1989)

Lock Up is a 1989 American prison drama film directed by John Flynn. It stars Sylvester Stallone, Donald Sutherland, Tom Sizemore, and John Amos. It was released in the United States on August 4, 1989.

Frank Leone, a skilled mechanic in Hoboken, New Jersey, is a model prisoner nearing the end of his sentence in Norwood, a low security prison. He occasionally spends time outside prison in his garage fixing cars, playing football and spending time with his girlfriend Melissa.

One night, while sleeping in his cell, guards arrive and forcibly take Leone to a brutal maximum security Gateway Prison run by Warden Drumgoole. Drumgoole explains to him that he arranged this in retaliation for a past incident in which Leone escaped from Drumgoole’s previous post, Treadmore Prison, and informed the press about Drumgoole’s treatment of his prisoners, after Drumgoole refused to allow Leone a one-hour furlough to visit his dying mentor. Not only did this incident result in five additional years in minimum security being added to Leone’s sentence, but in Drumgoole’s transfer to Gateway, a negative mark on his job record.

Leone is mistreated by the guards and by a dominant inmate, Chink Weber, who acts as a trustee for Drumgoole. Leone also befriends fellow prisoners Dallas, Eclipse, and First-Base, and shows them how he deals with the hardship of prison. The foursome refurbish a Ford Mustang in the prison shop, which Eclipse nicknames “Maybelline”. Leone explains to Eclipse that he was sent to prison for taking the law into his own hands when he avenged an attack on his mentor. After Leone reluctantly allows First-Base to start the car, First-Base drives the Mustang out of the garage and into the prison yard. After his joy ride ends, Drumgoole makes Leone and his friends watch as other inmates destroy the car. Leone is also sent to solitary confinement for six weeks. There, Leone is tortured by the guards who wake him at random points in the middle of the night, forcing him to face a security camera and recite his name and prisoner number. However, the guards’ captain, Meissner, and one other guard become so disgusted with the crude sadism of the warden and his toadies that Meissner orders it to stop and releases Leone from confinement.

Aiming to force Leone to snap and compromise his position, the warden has Chink Weber kill First-Base in the gym. Enraged, Leone attacks Chink, rendering him helpless, but before he kills him, he relents, knowing that committing such an act is precisely what Drumgoole wants. However, one of Chink’s goons stabs Leone from behind with a shank. As Leone recovers in the prison infirmary, another prisoner tells him that he has been hired to rape and murder Melissa. That night, Leone attempts his escape with Dallas to try and save Melissa, however Dallas lures him to a dead end, where they are captured by Drumgoole and his guards, among them, the one who posed as the prisoner who claimed he would rape Melissa. It is revealed that Drumgoole arranged this to provoke Leone into attempting an escape, in order to have a mandatory 10-year sentence imposed upon him, and convinced Dallas to assist him in his plan in exchange for an early release, though Drumgoole reneges on this after Leone’s capture. Drumgoole leaves the two inmates to be beaten by the guards, but Dallas, knowing the other prisoners would kill him after setting up Leone, apologizes to Leone and electrocutes himself and officer Manly to help Leone escape.

Enraged, Leone breaks into Drumgoole’s office instead of escaping, takes him to the execution chamber and straps him to the electric chair. He activates the generator and secures his hand to the switch. The prison guards break into the execution viewing room, leading to an armed standoff. Under threat of being executed, the warden finally confesses to his plot to increase Leone’s jail time. Leone pulls the switch anyway but nothing happens. He then reveals he took one of the fuses out before to trick the warden into confessing. Captain Meissner and his men cuff Leone, but they also take Drumgoole into custody for the legal confession.

A judicial inquiry is made into the matter about the warden’s corrupt behavior and Leone serves only the jail time required of him in the first place. A few weeks later Frank leaves prison to the cheers of his fellow inmates and meets up with Eclipse one last time. He wishes Captain Meissner farewell, exits Gateway to embrace the waiting Melissa.


  • Sylvester Stallone as Frank Leone
  • Donald Sutherland as Warden Drumgoole
  • John Amos as Captain Meissner
  • Sonny Landham as Chink Weber
  • Tom Sizemore as Dallas
  • Frank McRae as Eclipse
  • Darlanne Fluegel as Melissa
  • William Allen Young as Braden
  • Larry Romano as First Base
  • Jordan Lund as Manly
  • John Lilla as Wiley
  • Dean Duval as Ernie
  • Jerry Strivelli as Louie Munafo
  • David Anthony Marshall as Mastrone
  • Kurek Ashley as Chink’s Gang Member
  • Michael Petroni as Chink’s Gang Member
  • Danny Trejo as Chink’s Gang Member
  • Frank Pesce as Johnson

Lock Up grossed $22.1 million on a budget of $24 million.

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “B+” on an A+ to F scale.

Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 17% of twelve surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 4.2/10. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Stallone “defies credibility to the point of inviting unintended laughter.” Hal Hinson of The Washington Post wrote, “Lock Up bears the unmistakable mark of a vanity production”.

The film was nominated for three Razzie Awards including Worst Picture, Worst Actor for Sylvester Stallone and Worst Supporting Actor for Donald Sutherland, but failed to win any of those categories.

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