An hour into Law Abiding Citizen, action man of the hour Gerard Butler (300) says his revenge plan will "get biblical." Talk about understatement. Between burying people alive and castration by box cutter, Butler's pissed-off dad mixes Old Testament carnage with the wackadoo morality of a cultist pouring poisoned Kool-Aid.
As with any post-1974 revenge film, Law Abiding Citizen begs for comparison to Death Wish. But dramatic retribution predates Charlie Bronson's mustache by centuries, and while Law Abiding Citizen has moments of Bronsonism, the film works more like Saw for people who hate horror films but love human suffering.
Butler's troubled genius, Clyde, is a seemingly upstanding American who goes all Man on Fire when a pair of thugs rapes and murders his wife and young daughter. One is sentenced to death, the other strikes an early release deal with a hotshot assistant district attorney (Jamie Foxx). Ten years later, Foxx is climbing the legal ladder when Clyde gets busted for dismembering the freed killer.
From prison, Butler exacts gruesome revenge on Philadelphia's corrupt justice system—Foxx, the judge, their assistants, parking attendants—through a series of Jigsaw-style traps (Clyde's the government-trained Rube Goldberg of inventive assassination, employing everything from robots to explosive cell phones). Foxx, continuing a smirking post-Oscar decline of Cuba Gooding proportions, spends the film figuring out how a man behind bars can wreak such havoc as the film races from murder to murder with the urgency of a Final Destination film with a sense of importance.
Director F. Gary Gray has created a glossy piece of high-class torture porn, tricked out with an Oscar winner, gorgeous cinematography and spectacularly gross special effects. And somewhere in here is a call to reform for a flawed system where innocence is undermined by bureaucracy. But it's hard to hear that message with all the explosions and brooding. Say what you will about Saw—at least it doesn't preach pacifism as its characters are eviscerated. Law Abiding Citizen wants to have its gore and condemn it too, but its misguided morality play is a Hail Mary in a film too enamored with the violence it criticizes. R.
Opens Friday at Cedar Hills, Eastport, Cinema 99, Cinetopia, City Center, Cornelius, Division, Evergreen, Hilltop, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Sandy, Sherwood, Tigard and Wilsonville.