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'Law Abiding Citizen' disappoints

Article Published: Oct. 22, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Law Abiding Citizen' disappoints

"You know the rules: No shirt, no shoes, no dice." Gerard Butler stars in "Law Abiding Citizen."

There's a lot I wanted to like in Law Abiding Citizen, a well-made film with several excellent scenes, but the film's just too flip-floppy. It's a film with two personalities - one is a daring tale of blurred morality, the other a dead-fish action film full of cliches and by-the-books "suspense."

If director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job) and writer Kurt Wimmer (Street Kings) could have simply figured out which film they wanted to make, it would have helped a lot. Instead, they raise a lot of interesting questions and moral dilemmas before ignoring those questions for the predictable final 20 minutes.

Most of the film takes place 10 years after the murder of Clyde Shelton's wife and child, after which one of the murderers walks away with a mere three-year prison sentence. Assistant District Attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx, Ray), who allowed the murderer to walk with such a short sentence, has almost completely forgotten about the case - but Shelton (Gerard Butler, 300) hasn't, and he hasn't forgotten how nonchalant Rice was about the case, either. So he begins to make Rice's life a nightmare.

About 45 minutes in, Law Abiding Citizen had great potential - it had the "bad guy" in Shelton that you sympathized with - maybe even liked a little - and a "good guy" who was so self-absorbed and prideful that you didn't like him. Now, Shelton has truly become something of a monster - and all he wants is to prove this point to Rice.

The last 45 minutes of Citizen, on the other hand, are so bad it's almost a joke. Shelton becomes less human, and angrier, as the film moves along, thus becoming harder to understand or sympathize with. Rice never becomes likable, but I think Gray and Wimmer expect the viewer to root for him since he has the "good guy" role. Every scene towards the end seems recycled, with ends getting tied up in a fairly clean manner, but it's empty for the viewer because there is no good guy.

That concept is what made it interesting to begin with - both of these men are bad. Shelton started good, then went bad, while Rice is bad who becomes a little worse (on a personal level) through his trials and tribulations.

As the film got worse and the scenes more predictable, I kept thinking about Roger Michell's Changing Lanes, a great film with no good guys. In it, two men - both with serious issues - begin to create havoc for each other after a brief traffic collision that ruins their respective days. Lanes did everything that Citizen sets out to do, but it never succumbs to formula - it stays daring to the end, and the payoff is marvelous.

Citizen's so by-the-book down the stretch that it's almost an insult to how interesting it was earlier on. Rarely have I been left as generally disappointed as I was when the credits began to roll, knowing that a lot of hard work and talent just got washed down the drain.

So, to Gray and Wimmer, I must ask: Why do you build me up, buttercup baby, just to let me down?

Law Abiding Citizen, rated R for strong bloody brutal violence and torture, a scene of rape, and pervasive language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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