Law Abiding Citizen
2 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
Congratulations, Jaime Foxx, you have surpassed Elias Korteas as the least talented actor of all time. Based on his wake-me-up-when-it's-over performance as prosecutor Nick Rice in "Law Abiding Citizen," Foxx should be arrested for impersonation an actor. The next award he should get should be the first shot at getting fried by Old Sparky when the warden flips the switch.
Lost in Foxx's huff-and-puff performance as Nick Rice is a brilliant turn by Gerald "300 Spartans" Butler, who plays master criminal Clyde Shelton, the law abiding citizen in question. Shelton helplessly watched as his wife and daughter were slaughtered before his eyes by a pair of home invaders, Clarence Darby and Rupert Ames.
In order to send Ames to death row (and to protect his 96% conviction rate), Rice cuts a deal with the very sleazy Clarence Darby (a great boos-hiss turn by Christian Stolte). Darby's lying through his rotten teeth about his role in the murder and Rice is too busy lining up his next case and coddling his viola-playing daughter to notice the wrong guy's going to get a lethal injection. Incensed that Rice would cut a deal with a killer rather risk a trial, Shelton seethes at the prosecutor's betrayal.
Ten years pass and Ames is finally set to be executed, still pointing a wobbly finger at Darby even as he nods off. But the execution goes horribly wrong when Ames dies screaming in agony. Aha... As improbable as it seems, someone spiked Ames' sayonara serum.
Soon after, Darby receives an anonymous phone call telling him the police are coming to question him about Ames' death. Darby escapes with the help of his benefactor, who tells him to carjack a snoozing police officer and take his gun. Darby is caught off guard when the sheepish officer turns out to Shelton. He attempts to shoot Shelton, but when he presses the trigger, he's injected with a toxin that paralyzes him.
Shelton takes Darby to an abandoned warehouse, revealing he intercepted Ames' lethal injection and doctored the contents so Ames would suffer. He plans to make Darby suffer even more.
Shelton agrees to confess to dissecting Darby in exchange for an expensive mattress that will comfort his delicate back. An angry Rice gives in, but at his hearing, Shelton, acting as his own counsel, cites legal residence, making the same judge that presided over the Darby/Ames trial (frequent "Law and Order" guest star Anne Corley) agree with him that Rice has no case. She's about to set bail when Shelton goes into a tirade, seething that the judge would swallow his mumbo jumbo. Instead of going free, Shelton is tossed in jail.
Shelton gets his mattress and confesses to killing Darby and Ames, then nonchalantly tells Rice, "By the way, I kidnapped the lawyer that defended them." Shelton proposes another deal with Rice: if a gourmet dinner is delivered to him by 1:00 p.m. - sharp - he'll tell Rice where he stashed the lawyer. (Presumably, the meal is to be served with rice.)
The warden delays the delivery and the meal arrives eight minutes late. By the time Rice and Detective Dunnigan (the always entertaining Colm Meaney) reach the site where the lawyer was buried alive, well, he's dead. Had the meal arrived by one o'clock, there would have been enough time to dig the counselor out.
Shelton shares his meal with his redneck cellmate, then, using a bone from his steak, brutally murders him. He's put in solitary - exactly where he wants to be.
From his cell, Shelton exacts his vengeance against the judge. As she's agreeing with Rice and District Attorney Jonas Cantrell (hey it's Bruce McGill, D-day from "Animal House") that it's okay to violate Shelton's civil rights, she answers her cell phone. It explodes, killing her. Talk about a wrong number.
Shelton warns Rice that others will die because he didn't keep his word - and they do - in spectacular fashion, until its mano-a-mano, Shelton's intellect against Rice's steadfast belief in an obviously flawed judicial system:
Rice: You think your wife and daughter would feel good about you killing in
Shelton: My wife and daughter can't feel anything. They're dead.
As blustery, boneheaded and braying as Foxx's Rice is, Butler's Shelton is his opposite - a study in cool, conniving conviction. He's a step above the typical genius gone bad, mainly because he's right. You'll cheer when he dismembers the despicable Darby and makes Rice bend the rules in order to deflate the injustice in the justice system.
Originally Butler, who co-produced the film, planned to play Rice and Foxx was signed on to play Shelton. That certainly would have broken several laws of nature.
Foxx has been hopelessly miscast before as an idiosyncratic homeless musician in "The Soloist" (see my September 3, 2009 review) and as Tubbs in the laughable remake of "Miami Vice," to name a few. That he received an Oscar for playing Ray Charles not only proves the Academy is as blind as Brother Ray, but that Ray's personality was big enough to transcend Foxx's lack of skills. In "Citizen" Foxx speaks with the clarity of a Bill Cosby cartoon character or a toothless longshoreman. True, not all lawyers have the oratory skills of Orson Welles, but if you sent mush-mouthed Foxx in to defend a traffic ticket his lack of grace and cock-sure attitude might get you a ticket to death row. That Rice feels no responsibility and bears no guilt for the deaths of half a dozen people and is arrogant and selfish is a major flaw in Kurt Wimmer's script that no amount of posturing by Foxx can fix.
Supporting roles by McGill (the boss with the good heart) and Meaney (diligent Detective Dunnigan) are all too brief and never fleshed out. Meany appears out of nowhere and if McGill's Cantrell was a real person he'd lose his post for giving Rice way too many chances to bollocks things up.
Viola Davis' career continues to be a series of cameos. In "Citizen" she gets three scenes as the Mayor of Philadelphia, but her get-results-or-else threats are hollow - she actually promotes Rice for screwing up. Davis' forced frowning countenance is a far cry from her emotional Oscar nominated cameo in "Doubt."
You know the supporting characters are going to fall like bowling pins because they're such nice naive people, particularly Rice's Polly Purebread assistant Sara Lowell (Leslie Bibb) and his mentor/buddy Jonas Cantrell. Both go out with a bang. Lowell is the typical eager-to-please energetic go-getter, but the way her expression goes from frenzied to one resignation is unforgettable.
Creative plot twists, Butler's unique villainy, the explosive special effects and the ongoing mystery of how Shelton is able to so easily out wit dozens of lawyers, police and F.B.I. agents make "Citizen" worth watching. As for Jaime Foxx - he's one citizen that deserves a full body cavity search.