October 22, 2009

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Law Abiding Citizen (R)
Gerard Butler gets all “tonight we dine in hell” on the people he holds responsible for his family’s murder and the lenient treatment of their killers in Law Abiding Citizen, a movie that — finally — gives this former Spartan a chance to be badass again.

Also, we get just a hint of bum when, for absolutely no reason, his character gets naked in preparation for being arrested. Stupid? Yes. But still I say a hearty thanks, movie!

We first meet Clyde Shelton (Butler) as he sits in his living room. His young daughter makes a bracelet while his wife makes dinner. A knock at the door leads to the violation of home and wife by armed thugs who wound Clyde and kill his family before running off. Later, we learn that the worst of the two criminals — a piece of scum named Darby (Christian Stolte) — has turned on his lesser-evil partner Ames (Josh Stewart) and received a plea deal, thanks to a conviction-rate-wary prosecutor on his way up named Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx). Clyde watches helplessly and horrified as Darby gets only a few years and prison while Ames — not the man who did the killing — heads to the execution chamber, all with the blessing of Nick Rice.

Ten years later, Nick is a powerful man who heads to the prison with his own ambitious underling, Sarah (Leslie Bibb), to watch the execution of Ames. Except, instead of an injection putting him quietly to sleep, it kills him in a particularly gruesome fashion. Even more gruesome is the death of Darby, who turns up in pieces a few days later. Nick approaches Clyde and, after the aforementioned nudity, Clyde confesses, sort of, but then hints that there’s more to come. After all, not only did these two criminals take away his family but, in Clyde’s opinion, the entire legal system failed them. And now it’s time for explosion-filled payback.

Thusly are we treated to fireballs, mad dashes to get to potential Clyde-victims before they’re killed by some elaborate trap and a totally awesome Viola Davis as the city’s mayor. Forget the dozens of police and lawyers working to bring down Clyde; Davis could smack him down all by herself. I promise to pre-purchase tickets to multiple showings of the movie that pits the kick-ass-ness of Viola Davis against the hooligan craziness of Gerard Butler.

But back to this movie. None of this bum-showing, explosion-causing excitement adds up to a good movie. It does, marginally, add up to an entertaining one. With the exception of Davis — who actually tries, even when she’s in throwaway parts — nobody turns in a really good performance here, but they do turn in loud ones that make you watch their characters even if you don’t particularly care about them. Who are we rooting for exactly? The vengeance-crazed dad? The righteous prosecutor? His pragmatic boss? Personally, I think I’ll root for Nick’s exasperated-looking wife, who wants him to show up to their daughter’s cello recital already. She isn’t a terribly significant character but she does sort of approach a portrayal of a relatable person. I don’t so much care one way or another what happens to everybody else (the attempts by the movie to make us care about Leslie Bibb’s character are particularly lame) but more often than not, the movie does interest you in watching what happens to them and adds little bits of dialogue about The Law here and there to let you believe you’re not completely slumming it. C

Rated R for strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape and pervasive language. Directed by F. Gary Fray and written by Kurt Wimmer, Law Abiding Citizen is two hours and two minutes long and distributed in wide release by Overture Films.