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