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In “Law Abiding Citizen,” a sociopath goes on a rampage, killing major officials in Philadelphia and holding the entire city hostage. He essentially is a character elevated out of the ranks of horror films who instead of killing teenagers reacting to hormones or other socio-biological imperatives destroys adults reacting to career dictates. As the title insists, this is a law-abiding citizen who is irate with a justice “system” that allowed one of the killers of his wife and daughter to get off with a light sentence.
Ah ha, does a social message lurk within the context of rapes, dismemberment, bomb explosions and political assassinations? No, of course not. That’s just the cover for filmmakers F. Gary Gray and writer Kurt Wimmer to indulge in calculated genre mischief that mixes horror elements with a suspense thriller.
The script does create sufficient tension and intrigue to hook viewers along with a photogenic, hardworking cast, so “Citizen” should stir some mid-October boxoffice action.
Gerard Butler (who also is a producer) plays this supposedly average guy who witnesses the slaughter of his wife and daughter by home-invasion robbers. Curiously, this pair seems more interested in being outrageously sadistic than in grabbing anything worth fencing, but that’s so an audience will understand these really are bad people who deserve to die.
Jamie Foxx plays a Philly assistant D.A. without much hard evidence who plea bargains an agreement with one sleazeball to testify against the other to win at least a death verdict against one and a murder plea from the other.
The audience is not allowed to understand much about the legal case — the evidence or the pretrial rulings. Nor does one know much about either key character, the attorney who agrees to the deal or the father and husband who feels that justice is not served.
But because the audience does witness selected parts of the murder scene, they will understand that the greater villain eventually will walk free. Tellingly, no judge, lawyer nor anyone else — not even the husband who blacked out — has this God-like perspective.
Ten years roll by, and Butler’s revenge-minded victim is ready for action. Oh, by the way, Butler is not an average guy, after all. He actually is a secret weapon — no, better than that, he is a “Brain,” whom U.S. spy agencies employ to kill people anywhere around the globe in a ghostlike fashion. Don’t you wonder why someone like this isn’t going after Osama Bin Laden?
Well, he’s going after anybody connected with the decade-old case, which more or less means anybody who happened to be living in Philly at the time. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen everything you need to know about the murderous havoc this man rains down on the city. No attempt is made to make either combatant credible.
Foxx’s D.A. — he is sworn in after the previous D.A. gets riddled with bullets — goes along with SWAT teams as they hunt bad guys. And Butler’s nut job couldn’t care less about his dead wife and child. He’s having too much fun killing people.
The film is smoothly produced, though Brian Tyler’s score is too much like an excitable cheerleader. Jonathan Sela’s photography and Alex Hajdu’s design sustain a noirish Philadelphia that works well with the criminal mayhem.
Opens: Friday, Oct. 16 (Overture Films)
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