Monday, October 26, 2009


"Set It Up" director F. Gary Gray's sophisticated but far-fetched law and order actioneer "Law Abiding Citizen" (**** out of ****) ranks as the one of best mediations about our flawed justice system in the guise of a cracker-jack popcorn thriller. Good movies pack twists and turns as well as surprises, and "Street Kings" scenarist Kurt Wimmer serves up at least five (count'em) surprises in this high-octane hybrid of prison pictures and mass murderer epics. Moreover, Wimmer has created an imaginative cat & mouse conflict of wills between a stalwart hero and an ingenious villain who share shades of gray. In other words, Jamie Foxx's prosecutor appears callous, while Gerard Butler's villain retains some sympathy. You may find yourself rooting for bad-guy Butler over good-guy Foxx. Meanwhile, Gray stages the white-knuckled action with finesse to spare. "Law Abiding Citizen" surpasses Gray's earlier nail-biters "The Italian Job," "The Negotiator" and "A Man Apart." Not only does Gerard Butler constantly upstage a dour Jamie Foxx, but Butler delivers the strongest performance. He comes close to chewing the scenery, but the villain that he plays would chew scenery so his juicy performance isn't too far off base.

"Law-Abiding Citizen" opens with two desperate criminals, Clarence Darby (Christian Stotle of "Public Enemies") and Rupert Ames (Josh Stewart of "The Collector"), invading a house in suburban Philadelphia. The two are posing as food delivery guys; at least, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler of "The Ugly Truth") opens the door for them because he mistakenly believes they are in food delivery. Before he has time to react, they smash him savagely with a baseball bat, knock him down, and then gag and tie him with plastic zip-ties. A helpless Clyde watches in horror as Clarence stabs his wife (Brook Stacy Mills of "Hairspray")and is about to rape her when Clyde's daughter (newcomer Ksenia Hulayev) enters the room. The thugs abduct the daughter and the next thing we hear is that the little girl has been murdered, too. Since he cannot assemble enough evidence to convict these hoodlums, career-oriented Assistant Prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx of "The Soloist") decides to preserve his winning record of prosecutions and cuts a deal with Clarence. To get a lighter sentence, the dastardly Clarence testifies that Rupert killed Clyde's wife.

Initially, when he hears about the plea bargain, Clyde is shocked. He saw his family butchered and he hasn't forgotten the murders. Rice points out two things. First, Clarence is going to jail for a long time. Second, Rupert has been sentenced to death by lethal injection based on Clarence testimony. Reluctantly, Clyde trusts Rice to do the right thing, but he has vengeance lurking in his mind. Grief-stricken, Clyde cannot help but feel that justice has been denied him. When it comes time to execute Rupert, he dies in the worse way possible and creates a sensation for Nick and his co-worker, Sarah Lowell (Leslie Bibb of "Iron Man"), who has never attended an execution. Ten years elapse and Clarence gets out of jail, but not for long. Clyde kidnaps him, takes him to an anonymous warehouse and breaks out some of the props that would go with a "Saw." Clyde sends Rice a DVD copy of Clarence's murder, but Clyde cannot be identified in the video because he has on a welder's mask. Things come to a boil when the video arrives at Rice's house and his daughter gets her hands on it. She thinks that it is a video shot of her at a musical recital.

Clyde is waiting when the police arrive, and they take him into custody. Rice appreciates Clyde's vengeance because he has a daughter, too. Afterward, when Rice sets out to prosecute him, Clyde wants to make a deal. What Rice doesn't know is that Clyde is manipulating him.
Eventually, Clyde winds up in solitary confinement, locked up and away from everybody. Rice thinks that everything is cool because Clyde is where he can harm nobody. No sooner is Clyde in solitary than he goes to work. He warns Rice that he will kill, too, unless they release him. Rice is incredulous when public officials who had something to do with the Shelton murder case begin to mysteriously die in front page murders. The mayor of Philadelphia (Viola Davis of "Doubt") demands that Rice take action against Shelton, but Rice can find nothing. After all, Clyde is locked up tight in a maximum security cell with no way to get out of prison.

This thought-provoking morality yarn never wears out its welcome during its nimble 108 minutes. Mind you, the only flaw in the film is its outlandish quality. Nevertheless, the theme that everybody must be held accountable for their actions is played out to perfection by the filmmakers. The first-class supporting class includes Colm Meaney of TV's "Star Trek: The Next Generation" as a Philly detective, Bruce McGill of "Obsessed" as Rice's colleague and Annie Corley of "Monster" as a Philadelphia judge. What you don't catch the first time out in this complex crime movies adds to the entertainment of second and third viewings. Make no mistake, "Law Abiding Citizen" earned its R-rating for strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape, and pervasive language. Although its contains some pretty graphic murder sequences, "Law Abiding Citizen" is nowhere near as sadistic or repellent as the latest "Saw" movie "Saw VI."

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