Ten years pass. Shelton, it turns out, has gone quietly postal. In order to make the final waking minutes of one of the murderers as painful as possible, he contrives to replace potassium with bromide so that the inmate is frazzled for what seems an eternity. Then he sets his sights on Darby, paralyzing him, and whisking him off to a warehouse where he applies a series of hacksaws and bolt-cutters to slice and dice him into 25 segments.
Even when he’s arrested, he doesn’t let up. He may be confined to a cell, but he seems to have a supernatural ability to orchestrate horrific mayhem on everyone implicated in the failure to prosecute his family’s murderers. He buries a man alive, kills a judge by detonating her mobile phone, plants a series of bombs in a car park, and uses a weaponised bomb-disposal robot to cause a graveyard massacre.
It can be only a matter of time until he wipes out Rice, whose daughter he has already terrified by sending her a DVD showing him disemboweling and tenderizing Darby.
Law Abiding Citizen is an extraordinary film. Extraordinary in that it appears to have been gutted of any semblance of drama, wit, sense or originality. I won’t tell you how Shelton manages to commit his crimes; suffice to say, members of the audience at the screening I attended hooted in derision and continued to snigger at regular intervals thereafter.
Allow me to backtrack: does anyone seriously believe that a prosecutor as politically savvy as Rice is meant to be would allow himself to be photographed shaking hands with such a vile piece of work as Darby? This is meant to be the film’s fulcrum, the moment — and the injustice it represents — that triggers Shelton’s murderous instincts. If this doesn’t ring true, then nothing that happens afterwards can ring true.
The film wants to be seen as a cut above cheerfully violent ‘shilling shockers’ such as Hostel, Tarantino’s Death Race, and even Sweeney Todd. It is full of banal, ponderous utterances — “You can’t fight fate”, “Did we bring this all on ourselves?” — that signal its desire to be seen as some kind of morality tale.
But this is pure hypocrisy. F Gary Gray, whose previous films include the 2006 remake of The Italian Job, is in love with the violence that he’d like us to think he abhors. He wants us to think of Shelton as a righteous figure, an embodiment of human decency in a world of cant and dishonour. Yet the man is clearly a psychopath. If we’re aroused by the mayhem he creates, it’s not because it’s in any way just; it’s because it involves bangs and ballistics.
Fans of Gerard Butler will no doubt appreciate a shot of him standing naked as he waits for police officers to arrest him. Everyone else will likely be incredulous at his ability here to turn in an even worse performance than he did in Gamer.
Presented as a super-canny operator in the mould of Hannibal Lecter, someone whose combination of brainpower and technological savvy is meant to make him `smarter than the FBI and Homeland Security combined, he comes across as a man who would struggle to read without moving his lips. At one point, he promises Rice that he will unleash lots more violence. “It’s gonna be Biblical!” He makes this Terminator-style boast sound as threatening as a plate of sprouts. His accent oscillates between Philadelphia and Paisley. Throughout, he exudes the charisma of a corrugated shed.
Jamie Foxx, who one imagines signed on for the role in order to give him time and leverage for future, more personal projects worthy of his talent, sleepwalks through his scenes.
The motto of Law Abiding Citizen, endlessly repeated by Shelton, is that everyone must account for their actions. Does that apply to the people who made and star in this truly dire film?
Gerard Butler's big old grumpy face has loomed large on the sides of buses this week, advertising Law Abiding Citizen, his violent new thriller about revenge. He really is as cross as two sticks. As my mother would say: Mr Butler has the look of a man who has found a penny and lost sixpence – and on rising from the pavement with that dull and disappointing copper coin in his hand, noticed his wife and child being brutally slain by scumbag criminals who will, in all probability, be cosseted by a politically correct legal system that cares more about statistics than justice. This is a different face from the one he uses for romcoms such as PS I Love You: the dishy and warmly gruntled expression of a dreamboat hunk. In this film, in which he spends much of his time banged up, Butler rarely smiles, and when he does, he still looks a bit miffed, like Hannibal Lecter suspecting that one of his fava beans is off.
Butler is the producer and star of this extremely gory and stomach-turning new picture, which comes worryingly close to revenge-torture-porn – and in which we are invited to sympathise, more than a bit, with the torturer.
He plays Clyde Shelton, whose nearest and dearest are blown away by two villains. But Clyde is told by the city's assistant prosecutor Nick Rice, played by Jamie Foxx, that only one bad guy will get the death penalty. The other will get some sort of plea bargain, and this swaggeringly unrepentant felon is out on the streets in a short while.
Ten years later, Clyde begins a terrifying new campaign of revenge against anyone and everyone involved in his family's murder – including the complacent law officers. Even the murderer getting the lethal injection isn't let off. His poisons are tampered with to make things extra-nasty. The other murderer is sadistically hacked to pieces, while the proceedings are being videoed – and the DVD is sent to Nick's home so that his daughter can see it. Oh, charming. Clyde is incarcerated, but manages to continue his serial killings from behind bars, raising the awful possibility that someone in the system – someone who sympathises with his grievance – is helping him.
What is such a narrative cheat is that Clyde is, in fact, not the ordinary bloke sold to us at the beginning of the film. He turns out to be both a brilliant inventor and a ruthless professional super-assassin once employed by the CIA. How convenient. The movie is trying to be both about an ordinary guy getting payback, and about a chilling masterbrain, outwitting the police at every turn.
It's silly and nasty at the same time: not a good combination. Nick's adorably talented little daughter finally delights her fond parents with a cello recital – apparently none the worse for that filmic ordeal. I have to say that after this, I didn't feel much like unaccompanied cello music.