Director F. Gary Gray doesn’t waste any precious time getting to “Law Abiding Citizen’s” action. About thirty seconds into the movie there is a scene of striking ultra-violence that sets up the revenge story which is to follow. It’s just too bad that he allows the pace to go downhill after the opening scene. It’s a thriller without many thrills.
Gerard Butler and his finely carved abdominal muscles play Clyde Shelton the law abiding citizen referred to in the title. His life is changed forever after a home invasion leaves his wife and small child dead. When Assistant DA Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), a slick up-and-coming lawyer at the DA’s office, makes a deal with one of the killers to testify against his partner in return for a reduced sentence it doesn’t sit well with Clyde. Cut to ten years later. Bad things start happening to everyone involved in the case, starting with the bad guys who both perish in excruciating ways. Clyde is arrested and confesses. That should be the end of it, but very bad things continue to happen. By the time Nick figures out how Clyde is doling out his own form of cruel and unusual punishment from jail it may be too late to save his own life.
There are a lot of words that could be used to describe “Law Abiding Citizen.” Here are some of them: goofy, implausible, ludicrous, inane, far-fetched, daft, nonsensical, illogical, preposterous, outlandish… I could go on, but you get the point. The story is a little silly, but that’s OK. It’s a revenge flick and if it was loaded with wall-to-wall action and some fun dialogue I could deal with the silliness. Look at “Taken” from earlier this year. Silly, silly, silly but fun in a check your brain at the door kind of way.
Unfortunately “Law Abiding Citizen” doesn’t have that kind of verve. There’s too much lag time between the big action set pieces. Every time the movie works up a head of steam the momentum evaporates into talky and mostly badly written dialogue sequences.
A red pencil could have made this script much more palatable but it’s likely that if you removed every line where a characters states the obvious and mundane there’s be very little left, dialogue wise. It’s the kind of movie that shows you a bomb with a cell phone trigger. Comments on it and then, for good measure, has another character say something like, “Do you mean to tell me that if that cell phone rings the bomb will go off?” Anyone who’s ever watched “Mission Impossible” or any other thriller involving bad guys and bombs knows that yes, if the cell phone rings the bomb will go off. It’s movie watching 101. You know it just like you know that the guy in the red shirt will always be the first to die on any given episode of “Star Trek.”
When the characters aren’t speaking in clichés they’re trying to comment on the state of a broken justice system that could let a child killer off with a light sentence. It’s an interesting premise for a revenge film, but again, Wimmer overplays his hand, putting sentences like, “I’m going to bring the whole diseased, corrupt temple down on your head! It’s going to be biblical” into Butler’s mouth.
Too bad the action isn’t as over-the-top as the dialogue. If so “Law Abiding Citizen” might have had a chance to be a great bad movie, as it is, it’s just a bad movie.