In late October and into November, while box office phenom Paranormal Activity was making headlines, the Gerard Butler-starring action-thriller Law Abiding Citizen was slowly and quietly working its way to a sizable profit. The movie was an afterthought for many reasons - one because it appeared like yet another forgettable Butler flick (he'd already punished audiences with Gamer only a month earlier) and two, because the title was so unremarkable that it didn't even seem necessary to watch the trailer. It was only after a few friends gave faint praise that I began to pay attention, but by that point it was practically out of theaters.
Law Abiding Citizen arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray on Tuesday, February 16, the Blu-Ray in a two-disc format that includes both the theatrical and extended cut, which adds 11 minutes to the running time. The crystal-clear and visually impressive movie, which also stars Jamie Foxx, is directed by F. Gary Gray, who has helmed such movies as Friday, The Italian Job and Be Cool. In it, Butler plays the husband and father of a family that is murdered in front of his eyes; Foxx plays the prosecutor assigned to the case and who, in an effort to garner another conviction, makes the poor decision to cut the killer a deal. Years later, believing the justice system has failed him, Butler goes on a rampage with a series of elaborate traps that leaves the city in chaos.
The movie is unique in many ways, in that the alleged protagonist (Butler) is actually the antagonist and the actual protagonist (Foxx) does very, very little in his respective role. It plays like a smarter, less elaborate version of Saw, as Gray subjects the audience to a couple painfully grotesque death sequences, and yet it is nothing like Saw. But to call it an action movie would be a misnomer as well, because there aren't any tried and true action scenes in the movie. In fact, the best way to describe Law Abiding Citizen is the nebulous word "thriller." There's some appeal that the movie doesn't pander to common conventions, but...
It just doesn't work. The movie lacks a protagonist. Butler, the victim of a horrendous murder, would be the likely candidate, but despite his charm and craft, he is the villain. He tortures his family's killer, but then proceeds to kill plenty of innocent people. So he's out. And then there's Foxx. Does his character actually serve a purpose in the movie? Can't remember. Regardless, his character is about as uninteresting as they come. Colm Meaney stands out more, but he's clearly a supporting character.
The lack of a clearly defined protagonist weighs down the entire movie, which drags from one uninteresting sequence to the next for a painful two hours. As mentioned earlier, some friends had good things to say about the movie; I don't have anything good to say about their taste in movies. Law Abiding Citizen is an action movie without action and a thriller without any thrilling moments. Butler doesn't make a compelling villain, and Foxx is an insanely drab good guy. Avoid this one.
The two-disc Blu-Ray includes an audio commentary with two of the producers (really, no director or cast?), a couple of behind-the-scenes documentaries that look at the visual effects and other aspects of the movie, and the trailers.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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