Law Abiding Citizen (R) ★★★

Review Date: January 12th, 2011

Charles Bronson may have passed away, but the spirit of his Death Wish films lives on -- albeit in an absurdly twisted fashion -- in F. Gary Gray's (The Italian Job, Be Cool) gleefully over-the-top revenge thriller Law Abiding Citizen.

Taking a welcome break from his recent run of lame chick flicks, Gerard Butler (300, RocknRolla) stars as Clyde Shelton, a loving husband and father whose placid suburban existence is upended when a couple of mangy meth monsters burst into his home. Not content to merely burglarize the place, they proceed to butcher Clyde's wife and daughter as he lies in a heap on the floor, periodically losing consciousness after being stabbed several times.

The killers are soon apprehended, and a grieving Clyde, who somehow managed to survive the whole ordeal, eagerly awaits swift retribution from the justice system. Hoping for the grim solace that only the death penalty can provide, he places his faith in Nick Rice (Oscar winner Jamie Foxx), the hotshot district attorney charged with prosecuting the case, to do the right thing and see to it that the two killers fry.

Nick, however, has other plans. Seeing the case as anything but open-and-shut, and fearful that a not-guilty verdict in such a high-profile trial could derail his ambitious career plans (he sees himself as a Giuliani in the making), he opts to strike a plea deal: One man gets a death sentence, while the other gets a mere 10 years in return for testifying against his cohort.

Chastened by the unseemly bargain, Clyde takes matters into his own hands, delivering his own uniquely painful brand of vigilante justice to the sinister men who destroyed his family. But he doesn't stop there, not by a longshot. His grudge extends much, much further -- to the very heart of the justice system itself -- and he intends to bring the entire corrupt apparatus down, even if he has to do it while locked up inside a jail cell. Which is where he ends up after police nab him for personally imposing the death penalty on the convicted killers.

Indeed, Clyde proves to be something of a savant when it comes to killing people in creative, cinematic ways, employing exploding cell phones, remote-control machine guns and other methods to take out the various judges, attorneys and politicians on his hit list. Most amazingly, he orchestrates all of this mayhem from behind bars. Seriously, this guy's flair for novelty violence makes the Joker's antics in The Dark Knight seem amateurish by comparison.

The task of putting an end to all of Clyde's mayhem, naturally, falls on Nick. And this is where Law Abiding Citizen's fatal flaw emerges. Whereas Gray, Butler and virtually everyone else seem to enthusiastically embrace the utter ridiculousness of it all, Foxx plays it determinedly straight, as if he's the only one in the movie who isn't in on the joke. Watching his performance, it's almost as if he's making a different film than everyone else.

The right way for Law Abiding Citizen to end is for Foxx to administer an appropriately ironic death to Butler's character, utter something like, "I rest my case," and wink at the camera as he makes his exit. (Click here to read our exclusive interview with Foxx.)

I won't give any spoilers away, but suffice it to say, this is NOT how the movie ends. rated this film 3 stars.