Law Abiding Citizen is a movie with no use for logic, or realism, or basic rules of what is and is not possible within our world. It's so gleefully out there, in both its violence and overcooked sense of right and wrong, that it can be fun despite itself, with its grim attitude and humorless lead performances. Anyone enjoying this movie at face value needs to have their head examined, but watching Law Abiding Citizen can be like giggling behind the back of the bloviating law professor-- with the added benefit of explosions and insane violence.
The violence will be the main draw for people looking for Saw-level thrills, and the opening half hour or so offers plenty of it. We've spent about 30 seconds with inventor and tinkerer Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) before his house is broken into and, for no reason other than that evil exists in the world, his wife and daughter are brutally raped and murdered. The district attorney in charge of the case, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), clings to his 98% conviction record like a fourth grader does a gold star, and gives primary baddie Darby (Christian Stolte) a reduced sentence in exchange for ratting out his accomplice, who gets the electric chair. Clyde is furious and glowers at Nick from a distance, while Nick returns to his own beautiful and intact wife and daughter. Clearly this injustice cannot stand.
10 years later, Clyde has apparently spent that time practicing his torture methods and acquiring weapons, and botches the one murderer's execution, then kidnaps the other and rigs him to an elaborate death trap that practically redefines sadism. And that's when Clyde's scheme really begins. You see, he's not just content to take an eye for an eye. The only way to make up for the fact that justice sometimes fails is to destroy the entire system, starting one by one with anyone involved in the previous murder trial, and eventually targeting the entire city. And you thought Timothy McVeigh had big dreams.
The one thing that gives Law Abiding Citizen a feeling of something new, at least at first, is that Clyde is in custody nearly the entire time, taunting Nick while handcuffed to an interrogation table and making wild demands from within his jail cell. It would be an interesting mystery how Clyde had orchestrated all this, like John Doe from Seven but from within the pen, except that it's explained with some hokum about government weapons development and the mind of a genius. The film has set us up to see Clyde as an everyday man pushed to extraordinary lengths, but it turns out, he's just another sociopathic madman hellbent on revenge.
Not that Clyde's completely crazy-pants scheme is intended to make us like him any less. Director F. Gary Gray lingers lovingly on all of Clyde's monstrous acts, from that early torture scene to a brutal jailhouse murder using a weapon that no cop with half a brain ever would have let through the bars. Clyde gets all the good lines of dialogue and all the glamorous close-ups, while the people trying to stop him from taking more innocent lives are either belittled by him (his choice words for a judge are insanely misogynistic, but they bring the house down) or completely absent of personality. It's bad enough that the cute blonde attorney played by Leslie Bibb is used as nothing but eye candy, but poor Viola Davis pops in at the last minute as the Mayor, sternly berating Foxx and company as if thinking to herself "God, I'm better than this."
From the completely illogical notion at the heart of the movie-- rewarding violence with 10 times as much violence is the only way to find justice-- to Gray's absurd directorial flourishes, like intercutting an execution and a cello recital, Law Abiding Citizen amounts to a handful of action scenes and speeches linked by gaping plot holes. By the time the automatic robot starts firing missiles between the tombstones after a funeral, you'll have realized how far the movie has gone off the rails, and may be able to have fun with it. Too bad no one making it could do the same.