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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Jamie Foxx desperately tries (and fails) to find logic in the abysmal Law Abiding Citizen.
Some movies are preposterous, know they are preposterous, and are content to be preposterous. Crank 2: High Voltage comes instantly to mind. I have no problem with this kind. Then there are movies that are preposterous, donít know they are preposterous, and actually think they are being profound. I definitely do have a problem with this kind, and Law Abiding Citizen is one of them. Hereís a picture that requires more than a mere suspension of disbelief; it requires outright delusion to buy all the crazy stuff that happens in this story.

Jamie Foxx plays Philadelphia prosecutor Nick Rice. Nick has a 96% conviction rate, achieved mostly by refusing to prosecute cases he isnít certain he can win. This leads him to work out a plea bargain in a case involving the murder of a woman and her daughter; as it happens, the more guilty of the criminals gets a few years in jail while the less guilty one gets the death penalty. Gerard Butler plays Clyde Shelton, the grieving husband/father who strongly disapproves of Nickís compromise.

Ten years later, the criminal who got the lighter sentence is brutally murdered. Clyde, who doesnít deny his guilt, is arrested and put in jail. Even so, other people involved in the case start dying as well. Nick cannot figure out how Clyde is exacting his revenge from behind bars. Coming up empty, he pleads with Clyde to stop, but the body count keeps rising. It becomes clear that the man is trying to make some sort of twisted point about how the judicial system has failed.

There are really three essential problems with Law Abiding Citizen (and the fact that the title is missing a grammatically-correct hyphen isnít one of them). First off, I wasnít sure who to root for here. Initially I had a lot of sympathy for Clyde. After all, his wife and daughter were murdered, and the guy who actually did the killing got off lightly. But as the story progresses, he does things that are just as bad if not worse. He actually ends up inflicting pain on essentially innocent people. If his big beef is with Nick, why does he allow the prosecutor to live while others perish? My empathy for him was quickly lost. Nick, on the other hand, made a self-serving call that was clearly wrong. He also is a workaholic who neglects his own wife and daughter in order to climb the career ladder. I didnít care for him much either.

The second problem is more serious: the film is so outlandish that itís often hard not to snicker. Take, for instance, a scene set in a cemetery. Without giving anything away, the sequence involves a gigantic weapon sitting out in the open Ė one thatís equipped to shoot bullets and missiles. Now, how do you get something that large into a cemetery without anyone noticing it? Clyde is real good at that. He also knows how to rig a bunch of cars to blow up in sequence, at just the right moment so that just the right people are there to see it.

Other times, Clyde does something extraordinarily complicated that the movie never even bothers trying to explain. It instead uses that old stand-by: He hacked into the computers. I hate when movies cheat like this. How did the bad guy pull off some gargantuan feat that bypasses all kinds of intense security? Oh, he hacked into the computers, of course! According to the movies, itís amazing how insecure everything in the world is. You just have to hack in! Itís easy! Worst of all is the big resolution of how Clyde is pulling everything off. I dare you not to laugh. Like everything in Law Abiding Citizen, the plan is more than implausible Ė itís downright impossible, yet weíre asked to swallow it whole. If Bigfoot had been helping Clyde carry out his revenge, it would have been no less absurd than whatís here.

The third problem is the most serious of all. Law Abiding Citizen has no clue what a dumbass movie it is. Director F. Gary Gray and screenwriter Kurt Wimmer try to have their cake and eat it too. On one hand, the picture wants to be a slightly classier torture porn flick. It has all the elaborate contraptions and death-gizmos that youíd expect to find in a Saw sequel, but with bigger stars manning them. A lot of attention is paid to having ďcoolĒ death scenes. Then, in the very next breath, the film will turn around and try to lecture us on the foibles of the justice system. Nick and Clyde give very serious speeches about how the law works or doesnít work, designed to show us that, gore aside, this is an Important Story. (Yeah, right.) The mixture of gruesome revenge picture and self-satisfied message movie is deeply off-putting. Anyone looking for some cheap thrills will be bored by the speechifying, while those looking for a hard-hitting social drama will be turned off by the far-fetched kills.

With such a goofy premise, thereís little the actors can do to come off well. Butler (oddly looking like Tom Green here) overacts, while Foxx mostly sleepwalks through his role. Iím not going to fault them, though. Most likely, the stars were just as confused as I was about what exactly Law Abiding Citizen is supposed to be. One thing it is for sure: putrid.

( out of four)

Law Abiding Citizen is rated R for strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape and pervasive language. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.

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