October 15, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen

I just wuv pinchin' those chubby widdle cheeks...

Grade: D

Director: F. Gary Gray

Starring: Jaime Foxx, Gerard Butler, Leslie Bibb, Colm Meaney, Bruce McGill, and Viola Davis

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

When ironically-designated Law Abiding Citizen Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler, his chipmunk cheeks duly packed for the winter) watches his wife and daughter get slaughtered, and one of the killers plea bargain with Philadelphia prosecutor Nick Rice (Jaime Foxx, sleepwalking) in exchange for testimony against his less-culpable partner, Shelton stews and schemes for 10 years before hatching his elaborate brand of righteous, Saw-esque comeuppance against the murderers and members of the legal system.

It all makes for an attempted reprise of the vigilante vengeance flicks of the 1970s. Problem is in Death Wish, Charles Bronson didn’t take aim at criminals, attorneys, and judges alike, which Shelton does with disconcerting relish. For his first film since 2005’s woeful Be Cool, director F. Gary Gray unwisely chooses to team with chronic hack Kurt Wimmer, whose short-lived, checkered screenwriting credits already include Sphere, The Recruit, Ultraviolet, and the especially retched Street Kings.

Besides the gaping plot holes and silly contrivances (chief among them how Shelton is able to still carry out his explosive carnage from behind bars), this wingnut’s wet dream fails as either a moral object lesson or a competent actioner. There is no ethical equivalence between Shelton’s personal tragedy and an indefensible rampage against innocents only a Montana militiaman could rationalize. And, all’s not well (or justified) merely because it ends with Rice learning to be a better daddy and not cut deals with killers.

As she did in Doubt, Viola Davis brings gravitas to a brief role (this time as Philly’s besieged mayor), while she also teaches her leading men a lesson or two about acting. Unfortunately, Law Abiding Citizen is about any but; it’s reprehensible, nihilistic torture-porn only the Timothy McVeighs of the world could love.

Neil Morris

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