Venge­ful hus­band at­tacks ‘im­per­fect’ jus­tice sys­tem

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go See - By John Bei­fuss

bei­fuss@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

The griev­ing yet blood­thirsty an­ti­hero played by Ger­ard But­ler in “Law Abid­ing Ci­ti­zen” is a movie avenger who might have been pro­duced by gene-splic­ing the Charles Bron­son of “Death Wish” with Jig­saw, the mas­ter­mind of the “Saw” fran­chise, or per­haps — for those with longer mem­o­ries — Vin­cent Price as “The Abom­inable Dr. Phibes.”

Like Bron­son, But­ler is as chis­eled as the Pi­eta, but he doesn’t get re­venge on the killers of his wife and daugh­ter by sim­ply kick­ing their butts, per­ma­nently, the way Bron­son did. In­stead, he de­vises Phibesian snares and im­ple­ments Jig­sawesque “tor­ture porn” con­se­quences on those he be­lieves have eluded jus­tice, if not the jus­tice sys­tem.

Killer No. 1 he in­jects with serum “from the liver of a Caribbean puf­fer fish,” to in­duce paral­y­sis. He also pro­duces a scalpel, for re­mov­ing the man’s eye­lids; a cir­cu­lar saw, for the ex­trem­i­ties; and an X-Acto knife for — well, let’s just say that the or­gan in ques­tion is some­where north of the kneecaps. The mu­ti­la­tion oc­curs off­screen, but gore­hounds, don’t de­spair; a later prison scene makes up for it.

A ti­tle heavy with irony if light one hy­phen, “Law Abid­ing Ci­ti­zen” casts But­ler as Clyde Shel­ton, a spe­cial­ist in CIA-style “low-im­pact ki­netic op­er­a­tions” who brings Philadel­phia “to its knees” af­ter the “im­per­fect sys­tem” of the courts falls be­low his stan­dards of right and wrong. “It’s gonna be bib­li­cal,” prom­ises the self-righ­teous Clyde about his vengeance, al­though movie­go­ers fa­mil­iar with the Good Book may won­der how they missed the chap­ter in which the Philistines were smote with a booby-trapped cell phone.

But­ler’s co-star is Jamie Foxx as Nick Rice, an am­bi­tious as­sis­tant district at­tor­ney who is overly proud and pro­tec­tive of his near-per­fect con­vic­tion record; he cuts the deal that al­lows one of the killers of Clyde’s fam­ily to es­cape the death penalty, a mis­cal­cu­la­tion that trans­forms Clyde into an avenger.

If there’s a sur­prise in this ut­terly im­plau­si­ble and fre­quently dopey story (scripted by Kurt Wim­mer), it’s that the film — un­like many vig­i­lante/re­venge thrillers — comes to the de­fense of the flawed jus­tice sys­tem. It sug­gests that maybe Rice did the right thing, af­ter all, and that Clyde is a sort of Worst-Case -Sce­nario man­i­fes­ta­tion of the “pa­tri­otic” ex­trem­ists who have been stop­ping just short of ad­vo­cat­ing armed revo­lu­tion to halt the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s “so­cial­ist” agenda. But it doesn’t sug­gest this too strongly, pos­si­bly be­cause di­rec­tor F. Gary Gray — whose films in­clude the funny “Fri­day” and the aw­ful “Be Cool” — is as con­cerned with the box-of­fice ver­dict as Rice is with ver­dicts in the court­room.

John Baer Over­ture Films

Jamie Foxx (left) and Ger­ard But­ler star in “Law Abid­ing Ci­ti­zen,” the story of a man seek­ing re­venge on his fam­ily’s killers.

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