Law Abiding Citizen review

Category: Law Abiding Citizen Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: October 18, 2009 | Publication: California Chronicle | Author: Michael Smith
Publication/Article Link:http://www.californiachronicle.com/articles/yb/136595383

CUTLINES Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx star in "Law Abiding Citizen." CourtesyI shouldn't like the new revenge thriller "Law Abiding Citizen" as much as I do. It's too brutal, too silly, too farfetched, too pretty much everything.

And yet this cheesy cat-and-mouse game between Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler has a certain over-the-top wickedness that just howls "Guilty pleasure!" That is, if you're not howling at the film's gross-out factor.

Directed by F. Gary Gray, a stylish filmmaker with successes like the action-packed "The Italian Job" and the comedy favorite "Friday," it employs a driving narrative that sets up a two-man faceoff.

Butler continues to build on his worldwide success in "300" with another role of vitality and violence, portraying a character who gets to be a family man for the opening two minutes of the film, just long enough for a home invasion by two goons who kill his wife and little girl.

When a deal-making Philadelphia prosecutor (Jamie Foxx) accepts a plea bargain in the case (one killer will testify and be set free in five years) rather than risk taking the case to trial, that's a decision that Clyde Shelton (Butler) can't accept.

Clyde's elaborate eye-for-an-eye scheme initially seems like simple vengeance against those involved in his family's case, but his plan is grander than that: A system in which seekers of justice make deals with murderers is broken, and he's bringing it down.

Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer ("The Recruit") stages his morality play as a constant battle between two men whom viewers will identify as a bad guy and a good guy. There's the prosecutor who jails criminals (but for long enough?) against the anguished father who seeks retribution (and goes waaay too far). Which man is the good guy or villain may depend on a moviegoer's view of the legal system.

It's a tricky concept that will be catnip to those who shake their heads when confessed criminals receive new trials and perceived lenient sentences. But even some of them may not recover from Clyde punishing his first victim in his payback tour.

Clyde exacts a pound of flesh -- literally, as vigilante torture approaches "Seven" style gore -- in a graphic example of why the film is not for the faint of heart.

The fun element of this twisted life-and-death chess game is derived from the fact that Clyde, who is detained after the first killing, continues to target officials (with car bombs and weaponized robots) from behind bars.

We often know Clyde's next step in advance, but suspense heightens in figuring out how he's going to execute his next court official, especially while he sits in a jail cell eating a steak dinner, mocking the system for coddling his desires as he promises cooperation.

I've come to appreciate Butler's macho bravura as an act that hasn't yet worn thin, and mixed here with a man who is as mad as a hatter, it works well. Foxx, meanwhile, too often looks confused as a fellow who is helpless for most of the film. But their charisma matches up in many scenes together, and dueling stars is the main selling point of this flick anyway.

"Law Abiding Citizen" is an unapologetic rabble-rouser of a movie, an escape you can only abide if you give yourself over to the dumb fun and to watching two stars try to outsmart each other.