- The Washington Times - Friday, October 16, 2009

There’s almost an interesting idea at the heart of “Law Abiding Citizen,” making the movie’s complete and utter failure on every level all the more disappointing.

When Clyde Shelton’s (Gerard Butler) wife and daughter are raped and murdered during a home invasion, all Clyde wants is justice: the death penalty for both of the invaders. However, prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) only plans on going after one of the vicious crooks, cutting a deal with the man’s compatriot in exchange for testimony on the other.

Nick, you see, is more interested in preserving his conviction rate so he can continue his ascent up Philadelphia’s prosecutorial ladder. Needless to say, this does not sit well with Clyde, who feels that justice has been denied his wife and little girl.

Here’s where the interesting idea comes into play: The judicial process can degenerate into little more than a game, as who wins, who loses and who can best manipulate the system becomes more important than justice being served.

Sure, it’s not the most original insight in the world. But introducing a little righteous anger into the mix in the form of Mr. Butler (he of “300” fame) might spice up the idea a little bit, something like “Taken” crossed with “Law & Order.”

Instead, within the first 20 minutes, Clyde dispatches the two hoods, one of whom already was on death row. Some might delight in the torture-pornish way he gets rid of the other killer, but after that, his work should be done, right?

Not so fast. The last 90 minutes deal with Clyde picking off the prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges who have wronged him — these people too must pay.

What follows is not so much a whodunit as a howdhedoit that will frustrate any intelligent viewer: Without spoiling too much, suffice it to say that those who complained about the Joker’s near-magical ability to build plans and wreak mayhem in “The Dark Knight” will have a field day with Clyde’s behavior. Slamming the third act “reveal” as a deus ex machina would be too kind.

Counting “Citizen,” Mr. Butler’s last three movies — “Gamer” and “The Ugly Truth” are the other two — all have been quite dismal, even if the Scot has brought more spark to the proceedings than they deserve; there’s a twinkle in Mr. Butler’s eye that belies the ruggedness of his outward appearance.

Unfortunately, it would take far more than a devious glint to save this fiasco: The lazy script and mediocre performances doom “Law Abiding Citizen” from the start.

★½
TITLE: “Law Abiding Citizen”
RATING: R (strong, bloody, brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape, and pervasive language)
CREDITS: Directed by F. Gary Gray, written by Kurt Wimmer
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
WEB SITE: www.lawabidingcitizenfilm.com/
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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