Law Abiding Citizen

Director    F Gary Gray
Starring    Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb, Bruce McGill, Viola Davis
Release    6 OCT (US) 27 NOV (UK)    Certificate 18
2 stars


25th November 2009

What happens when you throw Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, insinuated rape, gruesome revenge killings and over-the-top action sequences together into one over-long courtroom drama? It isn't hilarity that ensues. It's a goddamn depressing mess.

Following the brutal rape and murder of his wife and daughter, seemingly timid inventor and Everyman Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) places his last hope for justice in the hands of hotshot Assistant District Attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx). Because of sketchy evidence and Rice's belief that it is better for him to maintain his 96% conviction rate than to actually risk taking the case to trial, he cuts a deal with the murdering mastermind, and sends the flunkie to Death Row. Devastated by the wanton miscarriage of justice, Clyde Shelton spends the next ten years plotting his revenge.

This is about as much of the film that can be even remotely considered plausible, and all of it occurs in the first fifteen minutes. From here on out, Law Abiding Citizen veers schizophrenically from your garden-variety courtroom drama to Death Wish on steroids to a torture porn-esque Predator.

[gallery]After the intentionally botched execution of the flunkie and the supremely nasty flaying and dismembering of the mastermind (which was also videotaped and sent to the District Attorney's house), we learn a little bit more about Clyde Shelton. Turns out, the old boy isn't quite the timid tinkerer everyone thought he was. Not by a long shot. Without giving away too much in the way of surprises, let's just say that once he decides to go after everyone even remotely associated with his case, he ain't afraid to use that extraordinarily high IQ of his to ratchet up the death toll in the most spectacular ways.

And therein lay the problem. Director F. Gary Gray (Be Cool, The Italian Job remake) doesn't seem to know in which direction to take his film, and if one really thinks about it, you're never quite certain of who the hero of the story is. The film presents Butler as the tragic hero initially, and keeps him in that position just long enough so that you've invested a good portion of your precious viewing time in cheering him on... even as he coldly eviscerates, emasculates, and decapitates the guy who murdered his wife. Hey, dude had it coming.

But when Clyde becomes completely unhinged and starts murdering innocent (sort of) people in spectacular ways, the film then presents Foxx's lawyer as the crusading hero, which is its fatal mistake. First of all, the District Attorney is a completely unsympathetic dickweed. Secondly, everyone fucking hates lawyers. And thirdly, everyone fucking hates Jamie Foxx.

What Director Gray may have wanted to present as a dramatic look at the duality of man and the evils that men are capable of when pushed to the limit gets lost in the translation of outlandish set pieces, ridiculous dialogue, and never-ending WTF moments. Example: a tiny, remote controlled armored car with a kick-ass .50 caliber machine gun attached to it blows away an entire funeral procession. Really? Yet it somehow misses Jamie Foxx's car? Tsk.

The brightest spots in the entire film are the supporting cast, led by the magnificent Viola Davis (Doubt), Colm Meaney (almost every movie made in the past ten years), and Bruce McGill (who will always be D-Day to me). Unfortunately, they are completely underutilized and, sadly, are forced to share all of their screen time with Foxx.

Gerard Butler, who also stepped in as producer, has some fleeting moments of brilliance. Despite most of his script choices since starring in 300, I've long believed that there exists in him the capacity to be a great actor. Beneath the dashing looks and the legendary brawn, there lies the same intensity that we once saw in the young Mel Gibson, the sort of half-crazed passion that will either scare the FUCK out of you or make you throw your panties his way.

Law Abiding Citizen provides us with glimpses of that sort of unhinged genius... but then ruins the moment just as quickly by throwing some goofy stunt into the mix or by simply cutting away to Jamie Foxx.

This movie is not enjoyable. You do not come away from it feeling good or bad or even particularly thoughtful. Instead, you come away from it feeling vaguely depressed and wondering what the hell you just spent your money on. Unless you are just aching to see Gerard Butler's (admittedly fabulous) ass on the big screen, you may want to wait until this one comes on telly.

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