High-Impact Thriller Kicks Ass, Takes Names

    Law Abiding Citizen
    Starring Gerard Butler & Jamie Foxx
    Directed by F. Gary Gray
    Rated R
    01:48
    3 stars

    Director F. Gary Gray (“The Italian Job”) threw a little something for everyone into “Law Abiding Citizen.”

    Action fans will salivate before the explosive-rich revenge plot of Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler, sans “300” abs), a family man who loses everything in a fatal home invasion.

    Deep thinkers will appreciate the dichotomy of morality-based justice and legalism, embodied by Shelton and Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) — a hotshot prosecutor who bends the truth to get ahead at work.

    And homebodies will be warmed by Rice’s attempts at balancing work and family. That is, until Shelton sends Rice’s daughter a tape of a murderer being tortured.

    Don’t expect a breath of fresh air: It takes only 10 minutes for Shelton’s life to be flipped upside down, and for Rice to cut a deal in exchange for guilty pleas. Before you’ve finished your first fistful of popcorn and even started thinking about that $5 soda, Shelton’s already halfway through his killing spree, and — in the “twist” that the trailer hypes — has handed himself over to the police.

    Whenever Shelton appears on-screen, the theater crackles with vicious, expectant energy that grips the audience with the anticipation of a disappearing pencil trick.

    The writers don’t disappoint, either: Shelton has all the calculated cruelty of a smartass Moriarty, wielding legal precedents with as much skill as his MacGyver-inspired death toys.

    Rice is a little more disappointing — though to be fair, Batman never quite equaled the Joker, either.

    A believer in the system — partly because it’s worked so well for him — Mr. Assistant D.A. of Philly makes for a hell of a good guy in over his head — too good, in fact. To the point where his lapse into corruption feels tacked on.

    The actors bring the film to life with a little help from Philadelphia itself. Gray milks the onetime capital for all it’s worth, creating a vivid neo-noire landscape nothing like Hollywood’s go-to thriller backdrop. The contrast of turn-of-the-century City Hall and Philly’s modern cement-scape makes for a poignant parallel of civilized rigmarole to Shelton’s primitive idea of justice without due process.

    Nuanced as his social commentary might be, Gray crafts a taut, no-punches-pulled heart-racer that moves so fast, you’re neck’s already broken. And if it weren’t for the muscles in your face seizing up from that foolish grin, you’d be hard pressed to believe that “Citizen” is almost two hours long. This isn’t just “Michael Baysplosion 2,” either: This is the marriage of great plot, believable actors and a script too smart for its own good.

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