There’s some foreboding imagery at the beginning of “Heartlock,” a crime drama-romance set in a prison: A shot of a black cat striding through an air vent. Doesn’t sound like much, but it was enough to make me expect a more exciting movie than this one ends up being. The cat’s around for more than companionship; it’s moving illegal drugs around the prison.
Turns out, though, that having a cat move drugs is not the best idea. The cat gets sick from those drugs, and its nasty inmate owner, Continental, then compels Lee, an inmate who works in the infirmary, to save it. Lee, in return, wants Continental to help him escape.
Continental advises Lee to find a “duck.” This is what used to be called a “cat’s paw” or “stooge”: an unwitting party you can manipulate into an accomplice for wrongdoing. This ends up being Tera, a female prison guard and daughter of a former warden who was a schoolmate of Lee.
Alexander Dreymon and Lesley-Ann Brandt, who’ve made impressions on television in “The Last Kingdom” and “Lucifer,” acquit themselves well in a predictable scenario. (Lee starts out thinking he’s going to use Tera, then develops feelings for her.)
But the movie really belongs to Erik LaRay Harvey as Continental, a prison operator whose wrong side you don’t ever want to get near. Some scenes in this film, directed by Jon Kauffman, put across the perversity of prison social ecosystems. But the picture’s gender and race dynamics, not to mention its forced star-crossed lovers theme, are sufficiently commonplace to register as hackneyed.