Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review: "Law Abiding Citizen"

"Law Abiding Citizen" plays out like a comic book version of "Seven."

Gerard Butler plays a suburban daddy version of Kevin Spacey's detail-oriented serial killer, whose real game is to taunt the authorities while he continues to kill -- even after being sent to prison.

Clyde Shelton is an inventor whose life was destroyed when two thugs broke into his wife, raping his wife and killing her and their daughter. The culprits were caught and one was sent to death row, but assistant D.A. Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) cut a deal with the other assailant, who got a sentence of just three years.

Clyde was not, shall we say, very pleased about this, and uses his gizmo skills to off all the people involved in the travesty of justice in as many uniquely gruesome ways as possible. For instance, one character gets it just from picking up a phone.

However, he does not start his killing spree until 10 years later, for reasons that are never fully explained. It doesn't help that the movie doesn't even attempt to age any of the characters one bit -- not a gray hair or expanded waistline in sight. A little chin scruff appears on Foxx's jaw, but that's it.

I suppose Clyde needed the time to set up his scheme -- and without giving anything away, from the incredibly intricate methods he uses to kill, it's obvious the guy has given it some deep thought.

The first to go are the killers themselves. The one on death row undergoes an execution with a few ... complications, shall we say. The other one gets a particularly gooey treatment that's just this side of those awful "Hostel" movies.

Soon, though, Clyde moves on to targeting the law enforcement and judicial agents who were complicit in what he sees as a corrupt system.

Director F. Gary Gray and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer never quite decide whether they want the audience to see Clyde as a homicidal deviant or a sympathetic figure. Butler's performance is similarly ambivalent.

Foxx does what he can with an underwritten role that invariably leads to a lot of blustering machismo and "If you even touch my family..." histrionics.

The movie's certainly never boring, and as a piece of potboiler fiction it moves things along adeptly.

It does occasionally wallow in its own silliness, as when Clyde paralyzes one of his victims with some mysterious serum and then informs him, "It's isolated from the liver of Peruvian puffer fish." The way Butler delivers these lines, though, makes him sound like a waiter describing the special du jour.

And competently made as it is, there's just nothing special about "Law Abiding Citizen."

2 stars

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