After witnessing “The Ugly Truth,” it’s good to see Gerard Butler back in a movie with balls … which he later severs with a box cutter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Butler stars as Clyde Shelton, the “Law Abiding Citizen” of the title who watches in horror as his wife and child are murdered during a home invasion by two white-trash goons. Somehow, Clyde survives his own wounds, and hopes to see justice.
Not so fast. Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), the hotshot Philadelphia district attorney assigned to the case, doesn’t want to risk his 96 percent conviction rate, so he lets the guiltier of the two men, Clarence Darby (Christian Stolte), cop a plea bargain to testify against his partner in crime, Rupert Ames (Josh Stewart). Ames will go to death row; Darby will go free after only a few years behind bars.
Clyde is livid. So, a full 10 years later, he does something about it. Step one is tinkering with Ames’ execution cocktail, which results in a most gruesome final exit. Step two is luring Darby to an abandoned warehouse, where he drugs the coked-up lump with a paralytic toxin and chains him to a slab. Using enough tools to fill an aisle at Lowe’s, Clyde extracts his pound of flesh — and then some — as he slowly separates Darby’s body into, oh, 25 pieces, and sends a DVD of the process to Rice’s house for good measure.
With both criminals out of the way, you’d think Clyde’s streak of vengeance would be done, but he’s just getting warmed up. He promises to bring down the whole corrupt legal system in a battle that will be “biblical.”
Butler is one of the film’s producers, so it should be no surprise he gets the chewiest role (even if he chews with only one side of his mouth). What is unexpected is that the script by Kurt Wimmer never quite shifts the audience over from Clyde’s side to Rice’s. Even as Clyde’s acts of revenge grow grislier, we not only feel for the guy, we root for him. It’s difficult to feel sorry for someone like Rice, whose tie alone probably cost a grand.
Director F. Gary Gray — responsible for one of the greatest thrillers in the last decade with “The Italian Job” — wrings a fair amount of suspense out of it, but the more you think about the plot, the less sense it makes. Halfway through, the movie throws out a “holy crap” moment that will catch viewers off-guard. It’s a great effect, but I couldn’t get over the logic behind it. Wimmer conveniently skips explanation, which is a cheat.
“Citizen” is entertaining while it lasts — and even more so at home than when in theaters — but this cat-and-mouse chase could use more cheese. —Rod Lott