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Law Abiding Citizen wants to be a court procedural, a revenge fantasy, an examination of good and evil in which all characters and their actions land squarely in a field of gray. The action is plentiful; the outsmarting a never-ending volley. With
Jamie Foxx and Gerald Butler starring, it will surely break the box office and have popcorn-munchers whooping.
Director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job) and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer (Ultraviolet!) aren’t sheepish about flaunting their cinematic inspirations. Imagine a Batman/Joker face-off in Hannibal Lecter’s prison cage and you’ve got a pretty accurate picture of the repeated meetings between Foxx’s Nick Rice, a district attorney with a nearly perfect conviction rate, and Butler’s Clyde Shelton, an engineer who’s pushed to the dark side when the man who murdered his wife and daughter is set free. Rice accepted the plea bargain that did, at least, sentence the other half of the duo who invaded Shelton’s home to death. But Shelton never agreed to this deal, and when he sees the killer shaking hands with the D.A. after the trial, it is on.
And this is where Law Abiding Citizen stops being a second-rate Dark Knight (really, there’s even a paraphrase of that film’s “You complete me” conversation) and becomes a ridiculous, white-collar Saw. Shelton decides to wait 10 years—until the execution—to start exacting his revenge, which boils down to this line of dialogue: “I’ll kill everyone.” He has access to puffer-fish poison, a prison’s capital-punishment cocktail, even a dark warehouse in which he can Jigsaw bad guys. A cell phone becomes a remote-control handgun. A machine-gun-equipped robot stalks a burial. And, of course, cars explode.
Have I mentioned that most of Shelton’s murders happen while he’s in prison? That’s the nugget that will either keep audiences glued or make them feel insulted by such ludicrousness.
Either way, there’s no arguing that Law Abiding Citizen is ugly. Foxx and Butler may be sharp with their characters’ cat-and-mouse mind games, but good acting and quick banter can’t wash over this alleged thriller’s torture-porn heart. Even Viola Davis was tapped to class up the mess, with Gray obviously hoping her small role as a tough mayor will match her Oscar-nominated small role as a tough mother in last year’s Doubt. (It doesn’t.)
The body count rises—graphically—with seemingly every passing minute, the horror amplified by the fact that the majority of Shelton’s victims are innocent. The logic of his agenda, too, quickly falls apart—going after the bad guys and even those who set them free is fine. Killing “everyone,” not so much. Like Transformers, though, the abundance of violence will probably overwhelm your senses to the point of detachment. By the time Shelton warns Rice, “I’m just getting warmed up!” your repulsion will likely have turned to boredom.