Here’s the problem with “Law Abiding Citizen”

**SPOILER ALERT**

Well, after reading David Medsker’s review over at Bullz-Eye, maybe there’s more than one problem with “Law Abiding Citizen,” but I rather enjoyed it, save for one thing.

Can a good thriller still be good if it’s based on a faulty premise? In the opening scene — and again, I feel compelled to write **SPOILER ALERT** here — Gerard Butler’s character (Clyde) witnesses the rape and murder of his wife and daughter. There were to men who invaded his home — Clarence Darby (who actually committed the rape and murders) and his accomplice Rupert Ames.

Fast forward to the deal that Jamie Foxx’s character (Nick) struck, and I’m confused. If he has Clyde as an eyewitness, why would he make a deal with Darby when he was the one who actually committed the most heinous acts that night? If Darby was prepared to cooperate but Ames was not, why not go to Ames (knowing that he’s the “less guilty” of the two) and say, “Look, if you don’t testify against Darby, he’s going to testify against you, and you’re going to get the death penalty. We know Darby is a bigger sh*t than you, so why not do everyone a favor and testify against him?” Is there anyone that wouldn’t take that deal?

This, coupled with Nick’s decision to shake hands with Darby at the ensuing press conference (knowing full well that he’s a rapist and murderer) sends Clyde off the deep end. The entire movie is based on this faulty premise.

On a side note, is it just me or does Butler have one of the worst American accents of all time? Between “Law Abiding Citizen” and “The Ugly Truth,” the guy just seems to have a tough time swallowing his Scottish accent. I like him as an actor, but I find his American accent incredibly distracting.

  

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Celluloid Heroes: Funniest Death Scenes of the 2000s

John Donne once said that death be not proud, but history appears to have misplaced his opinion on whether it can be funny. Fortunately, Hollywood has given us an answer on his behalf: hell, yes. Yes, we’re positive that’s exactly how the religious poet Donne would feel about it if he had seen the movies we’ve seen this decade. Even the dogs get in on the action at the movies this year: in “Up,” Dug’s favorite joke is, “A squirrel says, ‘I forgot to store acorns for the winter and now I am dead.’ The joke is funny because the squirrel is dead.”

One word of caution before proceeding: as you might imagine, there are SPOILERS galore here. Heck, some of these movies haven’t even been released on DVD yet. Ready to laugh at man’s last, most undignified act? Read on, fellow sickos, and of course give us your suggestions for the list in the comments section.

10. Shaft (2000): Back alley view to a kill
shaft
Yes, it seems like an inauspicious way to begin the list, but hey, it was a free screening, and I love Samuel L. Jackson. There is a reason that there was no sequel to John Singleton’s blacksploitation remake – what was up with Edgar Wright taking a shit in the middle of a meeting? – but Singleton did set up one fantastic death of a bad guy, and better yet, it’s clean enough for network television. John Shaft is being chased by baddies, so he jumps through the window of a New York apartment building onto the fire escape. Bad guy is a few steps behind him, so he peeks his head out of the window to see how much of a lead Shaft has. Ha ha, muthafucka. Shaft is right there outside the window, gun in bad guy’s face. Boom, dead.

9. Friday the 13th (2009): Shoot that poison arrow through my heeeeeeead
friday 13th nolan
Easily the best scene in the wholly unnecessary 2009 remake of the legendary (though itself not very good) 1980 slasher movie. Nolan is driving a ski boat, his topless cheesecake girlfriend behind on a wakeboard. From out of nowhere, THWACK! Nolan gets an arrow straight through his head, killing him instantly. This scene is awesome for two reasons: the obvious one is the sheer surprise of it all, the instant death in a movie series built on slow, creeping deaths and boo! noises. The really awesome part about it is that for this to happen, it means that Jason Voorhees, a mentally impaired, hockey mask-wearing lunatic (you can’t say that the mask doesn’t affect his depth perception), had to shoot an arrow at a fast-moving boat while standing on the shore, from a distance of at least 50 yards. Anyone who’s done archery on “Wii Sports Resort” knows that that, friends, is fucking ridonculous.

8. Saw IV (2007): Ice ice, baby
saw iv
For a series that started out with such promise – before that whole ‘torture porn’ phrase was bandied about, everyone just thought of “Saw” as a grisly thriller, which it was – the “Saw” movies became self-parody by the third installment, trying to have their cake and eat it too with traps that the victims had absolutely no chance of surviving, then wagging a finger at the misguided Amanda (and by extension, the American public) for setting them up, thinking they could have it both ways. When the fourth one came along, I was understandably jaded, especially after they revealed that Detective Eric Matthews is not only alive but stuck in a noose and slipping on an ice block while two gigantic blocks sit suspended in the rafters on both sides of his melon in the event an electrode is triggered. One of Matthews’ friends on the force has been looking for him since he disappeared, and since the police chief is working with Jigsaw, the chief knows just how to manipulate him. He even warns the guy earlier not to go through an unsecured door, and it is that impulsive move later that causes Matthews’ awesome, awesome death, where those 100-pound blocks of ice create a brain smoothie that the residents of Zombieland would kill for. Speaking of which…

7. Zombieland (2009): Fatty on the windscreen
zombieland banjo
One of the most beautifully grotesque pieces of photography I’ve seen in years. The scene just before this was funny enough, with the little princess zombies going after the suburban hausfrau, but when she takes her eye off the road, hits the back of the flat bed truck, crashes through the windshield and skids 30 feet across the street, well, that’s just comedy gold, right there. Those of you who have seen the movie are probably wondering why I included this over the much-ballyhooed cameo death scene by Bill Murray. Well, I’ll tell you: because that was as cheap a laugh as there is in “Zombieland.” Come on, do you really think Tallahassee and Wichita never thought, “Wait, don’t jump Columbus; he’s a jumpy little bitch and shoots everything twice”? That scene required a massive lapse of logic on the part of all concerned. Except Columbus, of course; he was totally within his rights to take Zombie Murray out.

6. Final Destination 2 (2003): Keep off the glass
final dest 2 glass edit
Considered by many to be the best of the franchise (though I’ll confess that I prefer the third one, and you’ll soon see why), there are some spectacular deaths in “Final Destination 2,” but only one had me reaching for the rewind wheel, and that is when young Tim (James Kirk) foolishly chases after some pigeons outside of the hospital, and runs underneath a giant plate of glass, which doesn’t just kill him but turns him into vapor. Later, for an added laugh, they show the body bag that carries his “remains” into an ambulance, but it has no form, since there was only blood left behind.

5. Kill Bill Vol. I (2003): Cutthroat business meeting
kill bill 2
The next time you’re thinking of calling out your new boss’ Chinese or American heritage as a symbol of weakness or corruption, make sure your new boss isn’t barefoot and carrying a samurai sword. You won’t hear her coming, and the last thing you’ll see is up her kimono after your severed head lies motionless at her feet. Bad call, Boss Tanaka.

4. Final Destination 3 (2006): Sorry, I really lost my head
final dest 3
I laughed so hard at this one that three women from a couple rows in front of me turned and looked at me like I was a ghoul. Apparently, they didn’t know that these movies are supposed to be funny. After the initial crash takes place, smarty pants Wendy tries to warn Lewis the gym rat that Death is after them. Instead, he mocks her, even after he was nearly decapitated by two swords on the wall. (Hands up: anyone been to a gym that has swords on the wall? Didn’t think so.) He then does one more rep on his triceps machine, unaware that the free weights behind him are really, really free. On the plus side for him, he literally had no idea what hit him, because whatever brains that would have formed that idea were in pieces on the floor. And Wendy. Mostly Wendy.

3. Law Abiding Citizen (2009): I just called to say…you’re dead
law abiding citizen
It doubled its budget at the box office, but “Law Abiding Citizen” is a pretty silly movie. Man loses wife and daughter in home robbery, man feels wronged by system, Man extracts brutal revenge on everyone, and we mean everyone, he feels is responsible. There is one scene, however, that makes the entire film worth watching, and it is when attorney Nick Rice is in the judge’s chambers, and the judge, who is one of the ‘everyone’ supposedly responsible for this miscarriage of justice, answers her cell phone. “Hello?” BAM! Dead. Man somehow wired her phone to deliver the equivalent to a bullet in the head. The whole thing takes less than a second, and it’s one of the funniest less-than-a-seconds of the you will ever see.

2. Spider-Man (2002): Death scene, interrupted
spider-man goblin
Leave it to Sam Raimi to assemble a vicious, bloody fight to the death between hero and villain, and end it with the funniest scene in the movie. After beating Peter Parker nearly senseless in the tried and true standard that is the abandoned building, Peter comes roaring back with a vengeance until the Green Goblin surrenders and reveals himself to be Norman Osborn, Peter’s best friend Harry’s father. Norman then attempts to literally and figuratively stab Peter in the back with his hoverboard, but Peter’s spider sense tingles just in time for him to backflip out of the way while the hoverboard impales Norman to a brick wall. That alone would make for a pretty cool scene, but it’s not enough for Raimi; in a trick straight out of the “Evil Dead” series, he includes a score-free, quick-shot close-up of Norman saying “Oh,” and then jumping back into the action of Norman getting killed by his own weapon. He may have made his bones in horror, but that scene is a textbook lesson in comic timing.

1. Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002): The face of death is near, and so, I flail!
clones shmi 1
She had nearly 25 years of acting experience under her belt when the Sweden-born Pernilla August signed on to play Anakin Skywalker’s mother Shmi, and somewhere along the way, you would think that she would have learned how to die on screen. But then again, after 30 years of making movies, you’d think that George Lucas would know a thing or two about directing, so there you go. The “Star Wars” movies were never shining beacons of thespian genius, but Shmi Skywalker-Lars’ death is the kind of work that you’d expect from the understudies to the group in “Waiting for Guffman.” Shmi’s last words aren’t even tear-filled confessions or reluctant farewell; they’re the acts of someone with Alzheimer’s, someone so forgetful that she doesn’t realize she’s about to die. And for the piece de resistance, the open-mouth head flop. Even Hayden Christensen could do a better death scene than that. And he’s a robot, fer crissakes.

Honorable Mentions
The Dark Knight (2008): The disappearing pencil trick
Van Helsing (2004): Werewolf Helsing howls over lover’s death
District 9 (2009): The bullet grenade
Ninja Assassin (2009): Just a little off the top…half of your head

  

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Chills win as the “Paranormal” phenomenon grows

paranormal activity

It was a weekend of surprises at the box office. The most pleasant for those of us who prefer a chill up the spine to a gag reflex was the outstanding performance of “Paranormal Activity,” which handily defeated the dismemberment sweepstakes of “Saw VI” despite being in over a thousand fewer theaters than its horrific competitor.

As documented by Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter and the bean counters of Box Office Mojo, Paramount’s extremely wise ultra-ultra-ultra-low-budget paranormal pick-up earned an estimated $22 million as it expanded to 1,945 screens this week with a outstanding per screen average of $11,321. That’s compared to an estimated $14.8 million for the latest “Saw” entry (two more are still scheduled, including the inevitable 3-D installment) with a per screen average of $4,875, less than half of its spooky competitor.

The irony in all this is that, now that critics have had to paid their shekels to see the unscreened “Saw VI,” not only has it gotten better reviews than the last few entries — which is, of course, not the same thing as getting good reviews — it turns out to have at least an attempt at political content with a plot that involves both the sub-prime mortgage and health care debacles.

Seems to me that Lions Gate really had nothing to lose by screening this for critics and the political angle might have generated a bit more interest. “‘Sicko‘ for real sickos! ‘Capitalism: A Hate Story’! says Geekboy Moonraker of ‘Ain’t it Bloody Disgusting'” might have at least captured a bit more attention. Though, reading Owen Gleiberman‘s highly negative review, it’s interesting to note that both “Zombieland” and “Saw VI” do call attention to our nation’s obesity epidemic.

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“Where the Wild Things Are” rides atop the box office.

Where the Wild Things AreAt least this week I have some company in being a bit off the mark.  The estimated grosses for Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers’ adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” overperformed the most optimistic assessments and nailed an estimated $32.5 million. So says jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter, as the significantly less jolly Nikki Finke factually reminds us that Warners chose to push the film as more of an adult picture. The decision certainly seems to have paid off.

It seems likely that the approach widened rather than narrowed the potential audience (parents with kids were likely to show up regardlesss) and added to the “cool” factor, with Cinemascore indicating that younger adults actually seem to enjoy it more than those over 25. In any case, as past somewhat deceptive campaigns I can think of attest, a certain degree of honesty in movie marketing may actually be the best policy.

Also earning more than expected is Overture’s poorly reviewed violent thriller “Law Abiding Citizen.” The macho appeal of the revenge/serial killerish premise, bolstered no doubt by the familiarity of stars Gerard Butler and  Jamie Foxx, proved fruitful with roughly $21.2-3 million estimated, depending on which sites you read.

Colm Meany, Jamie Foxx, and Gerard Butler in

In the #3 spot, “Paranormal Activity” continued to do extremely good business for Paramount with the week’s highest per-screen average ($26,530), netting an estimated $20.1-2 million on only 760 screens, still a fraction of the number of theaters showing competing flicks. As for the small discrepancies in these figures, looking at the numbers provided by Finke, DiOrio, and the Box Office Mojo chart, it sure looks like the glass-half-full DiOrio is rounding up while the glass-half-empty-and-shattered-beyond-repair Finke is rounding down.

Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell in
Though it has precisely zero appeal for yours truly and got almost uniformly bad reviews, audiences are being kind to troubled Universal Studios and Peter Billingsley, the now grown-up star of “A Christmas Story,” with his feature film debut as a director, “Couples Retreat.” The relationship comedy held well and lost a very respectable 47.7% from its opening week, earning an estimated $17.9 million in its second week. Not too surprisingly, then, the #5 spot went to the PG-13 rated horror remake, “The Stepfather,” with an estimated $12.3 million. In this climate, it might have done a bit better if it held onto the R-rating of the original. Lesson for Sony: If you’re making a horror picture, throw in a few extra f-words and maybe a c-word if you can manage it, just for safety.

On the limited release front, “An Education” had a very good weekend. The Nick Hornby-scripted period memoir adaptation from Swedish Dogme alumna Lone Sherfig, making her English-language directorial debut, earned $505,000 in 19 theaters. The Coen Brothers’ adventure in domestic Judaica,  “A Serious Man,” performed its due box office mitvot with an estimated $860,000 in 82 theaters. The #2 movie this week in terms of per-screen average after “Paranormal Activity,” however, was the critically lauded Chilean drama, “The Maid.” True, that terrific $18,000 was on only one screen, but for a satirical drama from Chile, it’s a success worth noting.

Finally, I have to demand that my brothers and sisters in L.A., Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Seattle get down to their local theaters and see the blaxsploitation parody par excelance “Black Dynamite,” post haste. The film earned what a less jolly Carl DiOrio termed a “mild” $2,014 average on seventy screens for an estimated total of $141,000 for Sony’s Apparition films.  Not horrible, but not what a powerful brother like Mr. Dynamite (absolutely no relation to Napoleon D.) so powerfully deserves! And if I read one more blog commenter saying this movie has already “been done” via the disappointing “Undercover Brother” or the pleasantly fun, but not nearly so brilliant, “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” I’ll know the Man is up to his usual tricks and it’s time to take back the movie theaters!

BlackDynamiteMovieStill

  

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Wild paranormal law-abiding stepdads to rule box office, almost for sure

Where the Wild Things Are

If you’re craving variety and unpredictability in your movie weekend, then this weekend is for you. Still, most of the smart money seems to agree that the week’s likely fiscal winner is Spike Jonze’s new PG-rated adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s multi-layered picture book classic, “Where the Wild Things Are.”  The family film boasts an outstanding cast, both onscreen and as voice talent, including Catherine Keener, James Gandolfini, Lauren Ambrose, and Forest Whitaker. It’s also got a director synonymous with high-quality and not-quite-mainstream fare and its hep cred is further bolstered by the name of bestselling author and McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers on the screenplay. Best of all, commercially speaking, it’s based on a book that’s been read and loved by practically everyone. All told, it seems like a canny blending of mainstream recognition, family appeal, and more than a dash of arthouse appeal, but therein may lie the difficulty.

This is a film that really should bit a big hit with critics, and its advertising certainly sells the film’s visual beauty — always a plus with cinephile critics. However, it turns out our David Medskar’s very mild 3/5 star review is pretty typical of the critical reaction. Rating a good-but-not-great 68% Fresh on the Rotten Tomatoes scoreboard, critics are expressing sentiments similar to Dave, who found it “lacking in terms of emotional weight.” Since emotional weight — laughter and tears, etc. — not arresting filmmaking technique — is what most people are looking for at the movies, you have to wonder about whether the film will show any legs over the long term. Still, jolly Carl DiOrio’s prediction of a $25-30 million dollar weekend seems more than reasonable given the audience’s voracious appetite for strong family films with cross-generational appeal. On the other hand, Disney’s decision to extend the run of the 3-D double bill of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” could cut into the “Wild” numbers just a bit with a terrific package of tried-and-true family fair bolstered by the appeal of 3-D.

Gerard Butler and Jamey Foxx in
For some decidedly non-kid-friendly fair, Director F. Gary Gray and writer Kurt Wimmer’s “Law Abiding Citizen” boasts two more or less A-list leads as Jamie Foxx portrays as a careerist D.A. pitted against against tragedy stricken family man turned imprisoned vigilante serial killer played by Gerard Butler. I think Butler has starred in like 200 million mainstream movies this year. None of those movies has been a hit with the critics so far, and “Citizen” is no exception.

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