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.
There’s no reason to expect much of a plotline when it comes to a videogame-turned-movie and in that sense DOA: Dead or Alive truly delivers. The journey begins with three women. First we meet Princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki) who lives in the mountains of Japan. She is told that her brother is gone but is warned that if she leaves to look for him she will become an outcast aka Shinobi. Nonetheless she wards off rows of ninjas and literally jumps off an entire mountain range to escape. Next up is Tina (Jaime Pressly) a female wrestler who’s sick of the superficiality that apparently goes along with her fame. Tina warns her father (Kevin Nash) to stop trying to coerce her back into the game but that’s before a boatful of thugs try to overtake her luxury yacht in the South China Sea. Tina makes quick work of the amateur thieves. Finally there’s girly girl Christie (Holly Valance) a burgling multitasker who can simultaneously throw on a bra and throw down in a fight. What do these three femme fatales have in common? Their skills have earned them an invite to the all-exclusive DOA tournament which crowns the world’s best martial artist. Even a dream-team action trio of say Angelina Jolie (circa the Tomb Raiders) Uma Thurman (circa the Kill Bills) and Ziyi Zhang (circa Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) couldn’t lend credibility to DOA; playing in this movie is simply a losing battle even if they win the whole damn DOA tournament. At least Pressly Aoki and Valance (and Sarah Carter if you count her as the hostess/competitor amongst the lead chicks) look pretty while looking bad. Pressly it should be said probably wouldn’t have even thought of accepting such a role had she known My Name Is Earl would be such a hit. But here she is kicking butt while looking freakishly toned enough to become a gaming-geek goddess. As for her acting Pressly basically replicates her backwoods Earl sensibilities and makes it work as best she can. Aoki (Sin City) continuing her trend of solid acting in mostly terrible movies actually looks the most “videogame ” while Valance (Pledge This!) makes her sultry fighter hot enough to distract from her ho-hum acting. But it’s Eric Roberts--he of approximately half the movies and TV shows made over the last three decades--who adds the occasional funny-bad vibe as DOA’s eventual bad guy. Nobody else could’ve played his role partly because nobody else would’ve wanted to. Oh videogame movies when will you learn that crossovers never work—especially in your “genre?" As sure as Russell Crowe’s 30 Odd Foot of Grunts will never make a blip on the Billboard charts and wrestlers will never be able to act a videogame will never amount to a good movie. At least DOA unapologetically plays out like a videogame: When a fight ends for example a “K.O.” (knockout) appears on the screen. It is one of the more ludicrous moments ever committed to celluloid but it’s director Corey Yuen’s way of staying faithful to the game version as well as his target audience. Having been a longtime choreographer—on everything from Lethal Weapon 4 to Transporter 2 and some non-sequels in between—Yuen has the chops to create a great fight scene but he is clearly not a director. Positively everything outside of the fight sequences is cringe-inducing for its lameness and insignificance. The fact there is even an attempt to build a story—by no less than four writers mind you—around what is a very literal translation of a pure fighting videogame is gratuitous in itself. Besides an hour and a half of mostly fight scenes would’ve been more appreciated by the bleary-eyed gamer audience anyway.
Invincible is Rudy and The Rookie all rolled into one. Set in the mid-‘70s Mark Wahlberg stars as the real-life Vince Papale a blue-collar Philadelphian down on his luck after his wife leaves him. His only solace is playing football with his cronies and rooting for his beloved Philadelphia Eagles who are in a real rut. Newly hired head coach the legendary Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) decides to infuse some new blood into the team by holding open tryouts. All of Vince’s friends think he’d be perfect and urge him to go for it. He does makes it and is soon playing with some of his idols much to their chagrin. I mean who is this punk anyway? Sure he’s got some excellent instincts but can he really be a NFL player with no experience? Yes in fact he can proving to all those regular Joes out there you can live the dream. Yeah yeah. Unfortunately none of the actors really add anything either. Wahlberg is definitely a natural to play this kind of role having already done so in Rock Star. At least in Invincible he gets to show off some of his athletic abilities rather than just his bare chest in black leather pants. But the performance is run of the mill. As is Kinnear who as Vermeil takes on the headaches of turning a losing team into winners all while his supportive wife sweetly reassures him he’s doing the very best he can. Seen it. To their credit some of the supporting actors—including Kirk Acevedo (The New World) Michael Kelly (Dawn of the Dead) and Michael Rispoli (Mr. 3000)—paint a convincing picture of genuine camaraderie between local Philadelphians. And Elizabeth Banks (The 40 Year-Old Virgin) rounds things out as Vince’s cute love interest (and eventual real-life wife) who knows a few things about football by golly. You’d think Invincible would be a no-brainer feel-good kind of sports flick. It’s based on a real-life person has that whole underdog thing going for it and it’s football. What could go wrong with that? Nothing really besides the fact it’s been done about a hundred times over—and has now been left in the hands of newbies. First-time director Ericson Core a former cinematographer and writer Brad Gann are clearly green doing things by the play book line for line. It’s scary helming a feature film for a big studio like Disney who had such sport hits like The Rookie and Remember the Titans. Perhaps Core wanted to go more out on a limb but was reigned in. Who knows? The football scenes are definitely the highlight and Core handles the action well. I mean you do want Papale to prove himself the natural athlete he truly is and make all his homies proud. But the rest of it is just blah.