When Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx read the script for Law Abiding Citizen, it probably seemed a lot better than it plays on screen. A grieving man (Butler) survives a brutal attack and watches his wife and daughter get butchered, only to watch helplessly as the district attorney (Foxx) lets the real rapist/murderer off with a plea deal. Who wouldn’t go a little Death Wish vigilante crazy?
In F. Gary Gray’s well-made but off-the-charts preposterous thriller, Butler waits 10 years to launch the king of all revenge plots against anyone and everyone remotely connected to his case. Like most “ambitious district attorneys” Foxx gets free reign to be everywhere he shouldn’t be when the cops try to unravel what Butler’s done and where he might strike next. Meanwhile, Butler manages to be everywhere and rigs everything across Philadelphia to “blow up real good.”
The main problem (and there are many to choose from) with Kurt Wimmer’s script is the filmmakers don’t know whether Butler’s whack-job is a justified vigilante or a Hannibal Lecter psychopath. Foxx’s character is equally hard to care about, so who is there left to root for? Suffice it to say that Butler’s Clyde Shelton is not even a poor man’s Dr. Lecter, even after he eviscerates a cellmate with a T-bone. And don’t get me started on the iron-fisted Philadelphia mayor of Doubt's Viola Davis. It’s perhaps the single worst follow-up performance by an Oscar nominee since Halle Berry’s Catwoman.
If you are able to run out to the snack bar before the climax for a quick lobotomy, you may appreciate the big twist ending. Otherwise, you’ll be yelling at the screen for them to just put Clyde in with the regular prison population and put us all out of our misery. Even “that buff guy from 300” wouldn’t last five minutes with those animals. It would sure have been a better ending than the convoluted mess perpetrated by this Law Abiding Citizen.
UPDATE: Law Abiding Citizen is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.