Earlier this summer, Gerald Butler demonstrated how he does in fact has some range as an actor by playing a crudely endearing nice guy/asshole that pursues the chick from “Knocked Up” (I know her name, but I choose not to say it) in the forgettable romantic comedy “The Ugly Truth.” But, realizing nobody cares about semi-raunchy R-rated chick flicks, Butler (literally) busts out his six pack as he returns to his gore-filled action roots in “Law Abiding Citizen.”
Butler’s character, Clyde Shelton, becomes a post-traumatic stress-disorder victim after witnessing the brutal murders of his wife and only daughter to a pair of robbers. Then, in the attempt to convict the murderers, an up-and-coming lawyer (Jamie Foxx) from the district attorney’s office takes a plea-bargain sentencing one of the robbers to a three-year sentence without going to trial. With the failure of justice clouding Shelton’s mind for the next 10 years, he makes it his mission to take the down the system that lets killers walk free, as he methodically eliminates those responsible.
Marking a welcome change from the Los Angeles and New York scenery that all-too-often provide the setting for the action genre, “Citizen” gives the city of Philadelphia more screen time than any movie since “Rocky;” scenes with the banks of the Delaware and the iconic architecture are more than frequent in the film. This kind of symbolic imagery is part of what gives this film enough gravitas to surpass its fluffier action film counterparts, as the city hall building becomes just as important a character as Jamie Foxx’s overly ambitious attorney.
More than the landscape, the thing that will leave an impression on the viewer is a combination of excessive brutality and forced American accents. From stabbing a prison mate to death with the remnants of a steak dinner to a torture sequence that conjures up scenes from “Hostel,” “Citizen” proves the point that violence equals vengeful entertainment. The city of brotherly love might never be same. On a less bloody note, “Citizen” marks yet another foray of Butler’s into the world of American accents. In short, practice does not make perfect.
If you can get past the exploding heads and other means of violent acts committed in the name of justice, “Citizen” cannot help but have audiences rooting for Shelton to succeed in bringing down the system. Foxx’s lackluster and completely unsympathetic performance makes you wonder if the weight of justice is even worth his shallow victory. While badassery gets an A+, the relatability makes you wonder if everyone including the audience deserves to get the head blown up too.