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Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Colm Meaney, Leslie Bibb, Bruce McGill, Michael Irby

Written By: Kurt Wimmer Directed By: F. Gary Gray

The Short Version

Law Abiding Citizen starts with a point and then loses it utterly.

There’s “smart” and there’s “preposterous;” this flick is the latter.

Was this supposed to be a militia recruiting flick?  Sure looks that way.

Sometimes, having no heroes is a bold choice; here, it’s junk food laziness.

Law Abiding Citizen is just too sloppy and incoherent to be worth your time.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Pointless processed crap that’s full of holes.

Pairs Well With...


You might convince yourself it was worth it once, but if you try it a second time, you’ll wonder why you ever tried it the first time.

“That's what a wrench is for, dumbass!”

At their best, motion pictures are works of art designed to inspire, to celebrate, to provoke thought, and/or to simply entertain.

And then there’s the contingent born exclusively from the question: “What can we sell?”

Law Abiding Citizen lies firmly in the second category, and its meaningless title is just the first of many points that it doesn’t have.

As our story begins, we meet Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler, Dracula 2000), a harmless engineering geek, having a quiet night at home with his family.  The doorbell rings, but alas, it’s not the pizza delivery boy or the Chinese takeout truck; no, it’s bad guys.  The bad guys whack Clyde upside the head, rape and murder his wife, and then go after his daughter.  Maybe they steal stuff, too, but at this point, that’s hardly consequential.

Flash forward a bit.  The bad guys have been arrested, but even with Shelton as an eyewitness, the DA, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx, Miami Vice), isn’t sure that he can get a conviction.  Rather than risk any chance of both guys walking, Rice offers a deal to one to sing about the other.  Because the movie wants to manipulate the audience good and early, the worst of the two fiends gets the deal, so he gets a ten year sentence while the other guy gets the death penalty.  Shelton sees any sort of deal whatsoever as an extreme miscarriage of justice; indeed, he even thinks that the guy sentenced to death is getting off too easily.  And so are planted the seeds of his revenge.

A decade later, the guy sentenced to death finally dies… only the death turns out to be far more gruesome than planned.  It seems that somebody tampered with things beforehand to make sure that there would be suffering involved.  Hmm…

Meanwhile, the other guy has gotten out of prison, only to wish that he’d never left.  Why?  Because Clyde is there to abduct him, shoot him full of a paralytic agent that still leaves all of his pain receptors turned on, and go all Torquemada on his ass.  Movie over, right?  Um, no.  The first act is barely over.  Now it’s time for Clyde to calmly wait to be arrested and taken to prison so his real revenge can begin…

I really don’t enjoy being manipulated, especially when the people doing it are asking me to pay for the experience.  Even worse, though, is when the manipulator forgets what he or she was trying to accomplish about halfway through and just says “screw it!”

Welcome to the wretched chore that is Law Abiding Citizen, brought to you integrity free courtesy of the marketing department!  Or perhaps by some scary militia group conspiracy.  It could go either way, really.

Had the movie limited itself to what occurs in the first act, it could have worked as a vigilante revenge flick with a little bit of modern (and scientifically incorrect) torture porn (a-la Saw) tossed in.  At that point, there still is a point.  An injustice occurs, the system works imperfectly (it’s worth noting that it does not completely fail; nobody walks away freely), and the deeply distraught man who was wronged finds a way to get some payback.  Granted, the whole vivisection thing is a dead giveaway that he’s gone completely insane and needs some quiet time away from sharp objects and society in general, but at least it’s still possible to sympathize with the guy without being insane yourself.  He’s still got some high ground.  He’s still the good guy… just.

But then things get crazy, and the script for Law Abiding Citizen takes a porcelain cruise and reaches for the silver handle.

Notions of logic and coherent storytelling go completely out the window in favor of a format based entirely on trying to have each successive fifteen minute interval shock-trump the one that came before.  Suddenly, despite the fact that this homely little engineer was completely defenseless in his own home against two moronic thugs, we’re supposed to believe that he’s really the CIA’s secret weapon of doom.  Suddenly, this homely little engineer turns out to be a master assassin / James Bond villain with access to anything and everything he could possibly need to kill anyone he wants or, should it tickle his fancy, to blow up a major part of the city.  Suddenly, this homely little engineer is more steps ahead of the forces of law and order – you know, the people who are, in the real world, the good guys – than even Hannibal Lecter could hope to be… until the very last moment, of course.  Suddenly, despite the fact that he couldn’t tell hoodlums apart from delivery guys at the beginning of the movie, he can accurately predict – years in advance – precisely where he’ll end up in jail, right down to the freaking cell number.

There’s suspension of disbelief, and there’s “you’ve gotta be kidding.”  Law Abiding Citizen crosses way past the line of “you’ve gotta be kidding,” gives it the finger, and heads off to a land that literary types know is populated exclusively by people named Mary Sue and Marty Stu.  (If you’re not familiar with the terms, they’re worth looking up.)  Continuity?  What’s that?  Common sense?  Surely you jest!

But wait!  There’s more!  On top of all that, the script still wants you to sympathize with and root for a character who is now a terrorist.

You understand that’s what he is, right?  (Hint: A plot to blow up Philadelphia City Hall is no different than one to blow up, say, the Oklahoma City Federal Building, or a certain other structure in New York.  And if you want to cry motive, the people who blew those up would claim similar motives, so it doesn’t wash.)

Frighteningly enough, I don’t think many people do, either willfully or because they let the script manipulate them into not noticing.  Rather like rejecting the notion of Due Process out of hand, because the guy played by Gerard Butler says to.  After all, everyone’s always guilty, right?  Which is apparently all the excuse needed to make threatening the DA’s family okay, because obviously, the kid must be guilty just because she’s related to the father.

And in case you're wondering about the DA, it takes a very well-written script to make the ploy of switching heroes work, and this is not a well-written script.  Besides, I don’t think the writer even wants to switch heroes.  The DA is too thoroughly trashed early on to make an effective comeback later, and the underlying tone of things still clearly is trying to lead the audience to sympathize with and even root for the nasty little terrorist.

Realistically, there are no heroes in this movie.  And no matter how you feel about the politics, this insane roller coaster of the story collapsing in on itself and exploding into an ever-escalating mess is just too much to bear.  What happens in the second and third acts does not at all logically follow what happens in the first; indeed, a lack of real sense or continuity can be argued going from scene to scene at any point.  There’s a word that wonderfully describes what this kind of narrative mess is, and that word is “headache.”

Not that the studio cared, of course.  They just wanted a collection of concepts for a trailer, a poster, and a DVD box that would make money.  It didn’t even matter who played whom, as long as the leads were pretty.  (Seriously.  Gerard Butler was originally cast as the DA.  Then Jamie Foxx offered to play him instead, and the switch was made.  They only needed to be costume filler and names on a poster, anyway.)  Just another day in Hollywood.

It was a particularly lousy day, at that, and it begat a particularly lousy movie.

So, remind me again what the point of Law Abiding Citizen is supposed to be?  If the system fails even once, it’s okay to become a terrorist?  Was that it?  Does the writer even know?  I think I’ll take a page out of his book and just say “to hell with it.”

Bottom line, I can’t find any good reason to recommend Law Abiding Citizen to anyone.  It’s a film that has no idea what it really wants to be save for money in the bank, and frankly, the people who green lit this horribly written atrocity don’t deserve your hard earned cash.  If you want to see vigilante revenge, go see Death Wish.  If you want to see torture porn, watch a Saw movie.  At least those flicks have some integrity.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, May, 2012

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