Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen (**1/2)

Law Abiding Citizen. 106 mins. R. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Written by Kurt Wimmer. Starring Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Leslie Bibb, Bruce McGill, and Colm Meaney.

For two-thirds of its running time, Law Abiding Citizen manages to be an entertaining and effective, if grisly, morality tale, with an intriguing premise and strong performances from its two leads. Gerard Butler stars as Clyde Shelton, who, in the opening minutes of the film, watches as his wife and daughter are raped and killed by two burglars. Fast forward ten years later, and he's out for revenge against the two criminals, the prosecutor (played by Jamie Foxx), the judge, the jury, the cops, the lawyers, and, heck, the legal establishment as a whole. Things get a little nutty at times, especially all of Shelton's intricate death traps masterminded while he's in jail. One scene in particular had me laughing for about five minutes, even though it's treated seriously. All I'll say about it is this: cell phone that shoots bullets. Bam. Butler is really good here, but he's playing a character who makes Saw's Jigsaw look like a poor planner. Shelton is like The Joker meets Hannibal Lector meets Samuel L. Jackson in A Time to Kill. When the movie sticks to the mind games between Butler and Foxx, it's solid. But when that last act comes around, and the movie's tricks are revealed, Law Abiding Citizen stops being entertainingly preposterous, and just ends up preposterous. Director F. Gary Gray can't help but lose his footing at this point. It doesn't help that he's stuck with an underground tunnel plot twist that just reeks of lack of inventiveness. As a hokey B-movie, Law Abiding Citizen is decent enough, but as a serious meditation on justice and the legal system, it falls way short of the mark.

- John


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