Jamie Foxx stars in this taut thriller about a policeman engaged in a really intense game of flashlight tag.

Law Abiding Citizen: A ridiculous, terrible guilty semi-pleasure

by Robert "BulletRiddled" Lee

Law Abiding Citizen looks like a pretty standard Hollywood thriller, so I don't have much hope for it. It'll probably end with a twist that was blatantly telegraphed in the opening five minutes that negates everything that happened during the movie. Prediction: Jamie Foxx was helping Gerard Butler all along.

It's been 24 hours and I still have no idea what the hell this movie was supposed to be about. Not only is it unpredictable, but it's almost entirely indescribable.

Gerard Butler plays Clyde Shelton, a man who uses car bombs to wage a war of terror. He's the good guy.

Jamie Foxx plays Nick Rice, an attorney. He's the bad guy.

Confused yet? Law Abiding Citizen is a total disaster of a movie, but it's so over-the-top crazy that it's at least an engaging disaster. As far as I can tell, Law Abiding Citizen is supposed to be an examination of justice and terrorism, and where society draws the line between the two. For a movie like this to work, it needs to start out agreeable and slowly ramp up the degrees of vengeance until the audience becomes horrified. Instead, Law Abiding Citizen starts out completely absurd, and quickly ramps up the degrees of vengeance until its totally batfuck insane. The movie completely loses all social relevance right around the time Jamie Foxx finds himself being hunted through a cemetery by a rocket-launching robot...and no, I'm not making that up.

The plot itself is a hodgepodge of bits and pieces taken from Death Wish, Saw, The Silence of the Lambs, The Dark Knight, Fight Club and The Life of David Gale, and it gels together about as well as it sounds. It's almost impossible to summarize the plot, since it switches gears every fifteen minutes, and the movie we're watching at the beginning is almost a completely different movie than the one we're watching at the end.

Law Abiding Citizen opens with two criminals breaking into Shelton's home, stabbing him, and raping and killing his wife and daughter. Thanks to a bungled investigation, his lawyer has to strike a plea bargain with one of the criminals so they won't lose the case. This enrages Shelton so much that he spends an entire decade planning revenge on not only the criminals responsible, but also the entire justice system. By the time we catch up to him a decade later, he's a master of disguise, he maintains a lair under the streets of Philadelphia, and he's generally emulating Death Wish, except with Charles Bronson replaced by the Joker.

Whereas Death Wish had an ordinary man using ordinary weapons, Citizen has Shelton, a millionaire engineer who uses exploding cell phones, anti-tank robots, and guns that fire blow-fish poison. It's not just unrealistic, it's practically a cartoon. The movie turns into The Silence of the Lambs for the middle act, and ends as Fight Club. I'm not going to spoil how exactly it makes those transitions, partially because it's a brand new release and I'd feel bad ruining the twists, and partially because it doesn't make any fucking sense during the movie either. I'll just say that it partially involves Shelton stabbing a man to death with a steak. You know, looking back on it, I'm starting to think I hallucinated the whole damn thing.

Speaking of the steak murder, this movie is insanely violent. While most of the movies that Law Abiding Citizen borrows from rely on atmosphere instead of gore, Citizen goes the other way and gives us fountains of blood, piles of severed limbs, and an exploding head. There are three graphic stabbings and two rapes less than two minutes into the film. The steak killing is one of the most brutally violent things I've ever seen in a mainstream Hollywood picture. Director F. Gary Gray has no concept of subtlety, but fortunately he seems to realize this and goes full-bore crazy. Instead of making an intelligent thriller with a message, he's made Death Wish as written by 1980s David Cronenberg.

The first act of the movie is the most promising. Shelton is angry about the legal loopholes that allowed a guilty criminal to walk free, and he protests this by committing horrible acts of violence on deserving criminals and using those same loopholes to get away with it. It seems like it's on track to actually make a point about flaws in the legal system. Then Shelton confesses to the crimes, and the movie spirals into total incoherence, cartoon logic, fake mustaches and robots. It's spectacularly entertaining.

Despite the impressive cast, none of the actors involved ever really rise above the material. In fact, none of them seem to understand what the hell is supposed to be going on. Butler and Foxx both phone in their performances, while Viola Davis (as the mayor) reads her lines like she's auditioning for Sin City 2. A scene that has her threatening to fire Foxx but instead promoting him to District Attorney is one of the most bizarrely acted scenes in recent memory, and is almost enough to pull attention away from the fish gun and death-by-meat. No one can agree what tone the movie is supposed to have, including the director. A sequence where Butler dramatically rips off his fake moustache had the audience howling, as did the scene where a man being put to death is inter-cut with shots of Foxx's daughter playing the cello. It's a glorious mess.

I can't quite recommend this movie, although I actually kind of enjoyed it...and I hate myself for that.

RATING (OUT OF 5):

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