- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Overture
Reviewed by David Medsker
aw Abiding Citizen” is a Frankenstein’s monster of ‘90s thrillers, mashing up the self-centered, morally compromised lawyer from a Grisham book with an “In the Line of Fire”-esque killer that more or less hides in plain sight. As cliché as that may sound – and man oh man, is this movie chock full of cliché – the movie actually works at times, and even has the decency to look away when decorum calls for it to do so.
Gerard Butler is Clyde Shelton, a government employee whose wife and daughter are murdered during a robbery. Clyde is not at all pleased with the efforts of prosecuting attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), who suggests a sellout of a plea deal in order to maintain his high conviction rating. Ten years after the crime, Clyde finally takes action, systematically killing both intruders and targeting every law official that was involved in the so-called injustice. Of course, he saves Nick, who has a wife and daughter, for last.
The movie was only written by one person (Kurt Wimmer, whose recent credits of “Street Kings,” “Ultraviolet” and “The Recruit” are more like debits), but it feels like the work of two people, one of them slightly smarter than the other. The smart one decided that the story needed to be stingy with regards to Clyde’s back story, inserted one of the best holy-shit-I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened death scenes in recent memory, and didn’t feel the need to watch when Clyde exacted his gruesome revenge on one of his family’s killers. The other, duller writer insisted on peppering the dialogue with phrases like “conviction record” and “you can’t fight your fate.” Curiously, the smart writer didn’t double-check the work of the not-so-smart writer. If he had, he surely would have re-written the scene where someone walks away from an explosion without reacting to it, since that ship sailed years ago.
You get the sense that the filmmakers view Clyde as a kindred spirit to Michael Douglas’ character from “Falling Down,” a victim of circumstance who sticks it to the Man on his own terms. In truth, the two couldn’t be further apart. Clyde dispatches his victims with ice-cold precision and no remorse, while Douglas’ William Foster is trying to make sense of an insane world, but eventually loses his mind in a mental illness-aided shame spiral. Director F. Gary Gray certainly makes it look pretty, but neither Clyde nor Nick is very likable, making it difficult to care much what happens to anyone on screen. And what on earth was up with Viola Davis? She has a bite-sized supporting role as the no-nonsense mayor, and she chews up the scenery as if she hasn’t eaten in weeks.
It makes sense that revenge fantasies would mount a comeback of sorts after suffering through years or torture porn, but “Law Abiding Citizen” is too cluttered with contradictions – not the least of which is its title – to offer any catharsis. If you’re in the mood for a ‘90s-style thriller, you’re better off renting a ‘90s thriller.