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Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009 04:07 am

When smart people make dumb movies

Gerard Butler stars in Law Abiding Citizen.

I know that Jamie Foxx is a talented performer and I have an inkling that Gerard Butler can really act if he gets the proper script. That being said, I couldn’t help but wonder if these two, as well as director F. Gary Gray (Friday, The Italian Job), had checked their brains at the door before making their latest movie, Law Abiding Citizen. This ludicrous exercise in manipulative filmmaking sets out to make a grand statement about our justice system but only ends up insulting the viewer’s intelligence.

Foxx is Philadelphia District Attorney Nick Rice, a lawyer more interested in how many successful convictions he has under his belt rather than seeing justice done. He cuts deals with opposing counsel with nary a second thought, but that comes back to haunt him when he accepts a plea in a case where two lowlifes are on trial for killing Clyde Shelton’s (Butler) wife and daughter. Firmly believing that revenge is a meal best served cold, the incensed widower undertakes a 10-year plan in which he will have his vengeance not only on the pair who slaughtered his family but also on Rice and the justice system itself.

While screenwriter Kurt Wimmer may have a valid point or two about how our legal system does not always insure justice and that laws can be easily manipulated to the advantage of criminals, the validity of these sentiments is obscured by the story’s pulp conventions. Shelton’s plan is far too elaborate to be plausible. Many of the traps he sets and gizmos he uses are more at home in a superhero film than a gritty urban thriller. Handguns that inject a paralyzing venom into the hand of its shooter, remote control, mobile rocket launchers and micro-explosives in cell phones are the tools at use here and one gets the sense that Butler raided Lex Luthor’s lab to get them.

Bad enough Wimmer expects us to swallow the far-fetched plot, but Gray’s depiction of the film’s violence is over-the-top and borderline offensive. Then again, his tactic is an obvious one – he’s doing his best to distract us from the real crime being committed here, namely making his audience sit through a piece of schlock masquerading as social commentary.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.
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