Law Abiding Citizen

You’ve probably seen The Dark Knight, so imagine what that movie would have been like if the Joker had been the hero. That’s the basic idea of Law Abiding Citizen. The Joker is Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler, looking much more vulnerable than he did in 300), who has an experience in the first scene that would probably drive most people to super-villainhood. Two men, Ames and Dalby, break into his home, stab him, and rape and murder his wife and daughter.

Playing opposite Butler is Jamie Fox as assistant Philadelphia D.A. Nick Rice, who prosecutes the two defendants. The case draws a bad judge, who suppresses DNA evidence, making Nick nervous as to whether he can win. Nick then has the unpleasant task of telling Clyde that he feels he has no choice but to offer Dalby a plea bargain to testify against Ames and put Ames on death row. Clyde, of course, begs him not to do it.

Butler lights up the screen as a man who's lost everything.

As a prosecutor, I identified with Nick’s struggle a great deal. Prosecutors have to work in a flawed system, concerned more with the rights of criminals than those of victims, and we have to make a lot of hard choices. Nick’s decision is based partly on a belief that he has no choice and that “some justice is better than no justice at all.” However, he is also motivated partly by the desire to preserve his 96% conviction rate, and his ambition to one day become D.A. He devastates Clyde when he makes the deal.

Nick Rice searches for clues

The scene switches  to ten years later. Nick witnesses Ames’ execution, when something goes horribly wrong (or maybe right). As the serum slips into Ames, he begins to writhe and scream. The serum is supposed to bring about death painlessly, but Ames dies in agony. It is later discovered that somebody switched the canister of serum for another chemical. Meanwhile, Dalby, a free man, finds himself drugged and kidnapped by Clyde, and strapped to a gurney, where Clyde explains everything  he’s going to do to him in painful detail, before slowly cutting Dalby’s body apart while Dalby screams (the explanation comes in handy because the audience is mercifully spared most of what happens).

Nick gives Clyde a bracelet made by his daughter.

Clyde is arrested and interrogated by – you guessed it – Nick. He offers confessions in exchange for being provided luxuries during his pre-trial custody. Ever-concerned about his conviction rate, Nick agrees to purchase the confessions. However, it soon becomes clear that Clyde was planning on being “caught” the whole time. From inside a jail cell, he begins to unfold his plan for retribution against the entire corrupt legal system, saving Nick for last.

It's not a movie until something blows up!

Law Abiding Citizen is one of few movies that I have seen that actually give an accurate portrayal of the legal world. I definitely identified with the struggles – both external and internal – that prosecutors must face. We live in a dark world, and I often wonder how civilization holds together at all. Much like The Dark Knight, however, the realism breaks down as Clyde’s homicidal antics go further and further. It’s impossible to believe one man could hold an entire city hostage from inside a jail cell, even with ten years to plan. Foxx and Butler both turn in tour-de-force acting jobs and involve the audience in their struggles. We tend to root for Nick, and yet we can’t help but feel angry with him for chickening out and playing politics. Meanwhile, it’s fun at first to watch Clyde get his vengeance, but he goes way too far. The supporting cast also does a great job. Some of the most memorable shots are of people’s faces when they realize they are about to die – not an easy thing to pull off. Colm Meany gets a rare heroic roll, and actually survives the whole movie.

This is one of those movies not everyone will enjoy, but everyone should see.

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Ugly Truth

You will not enjoy The Ugly Truth. At least, for your sake, I hope you don’t. When I saw it, I was repeatedly asking myself two questions: One: why am I watching this? And two: do members of our culture really have so little hope that they can’t aspire to anything more than this?

The Ugly Truth might be interpreted by some as a “chick flick,” however it attempts to bring the male perspective into the ugly picture it draws of relationships. I emphasize “attempts.”

At the beginning, we meet Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) a high-power TV producer who is successful in all things except love. By far the most entertaining scene is one of the first, in which she goes to a restaurant and meets (for the first time) a bachelor that she has been paired with by a computer dating service. Their conversation goes something like this:

She (opening black leather folder): I was so excited to meet you, because your profile had nine out of the ten characteristics on my checklist.

He: You brought my profile to our date??

She (turning pages): Oh, my assistant put it in my bag. She doesn’t like me to be caught unprepared – not that I am ever not prepared. Kudos on your comprehensive car insurance plan, by the way.

He: That wasn’t in my profile.

She: No, but it was in your background check.

He: Uh …

She (after a pause): Oh, don’t worry, I brought a list of conversation topics in case this happened.

He (rubbing his face): So, I take it this has happened before…

Director Robert Luketic figures we can probably guess how the rest of the date goes, and cuts to a scene of Abby returning home, dejected. She starts channel surfing and comes across Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler), a brash, shallow, foul-mouthed guy in tight pants doing his call-in show called “The Ugly Truth.” Chadway is throwing relationship books into a barrel and setting them on fire like the refuse they are.

He declares “Men are simple! You want a relationship, ladies, here’s how. It’s called a Stairmaster …” Scrub out a lot of profanity and stomach-churning innuendo, and Mike is essentially saying women need to get an ideal body, put on a revealing outfit, and then men will want to have sex with them. Only then is a relationship (albeit a fairly one-sided one) possible. Incensed, Abby calls him and demands “Do you really expect us to believe men are incapable of feeling love, and are all as perverse as you?” He asks if she knows a man who is not. Abby takes a breath and begins describing the ideal man who lives in her mind. He replies:

“Oh, I get it, you’re a lesbian.”


“You must be; you just described the perfect woman!”

The next day, Abby goes to work and finds out, to her horror, that her boss thinks their programming has gotten boring, and has hired Mike to spice it up. Mike’s first appearance on Abby’s station is to be with unhappily married anchors Georgia (Cheryl Hines) and Larry (John Michael Higgins), who are more-or-less Regis and Kathy Lee. Abby coaches the two of them before the show to humiliate him on the air.

Mike and Abby have a stare-down over makeup

Mike and Abby have a stare-down over makeup.

However, once on the air, Mike gets them to admit to all of their marital problems, finally getting Larry to acknowledge that he is so embarrassed by the fact that Georgia makes more money than he does, that he has been impotent for several months. After some coaching by Mike, Larry demands, “Georgia, let me be a man!” He suddenly attacks her with passionate kisses and then throws her over his shoulder and carries her off the set. Everyone in the control room is cheering, Mike’s popularity is now assured, and Abby is next seen curled up on the floor of the closet in her office.

In between all of this, Abby meets her neighbor, Collin (Eric Winter). Collin is an orthopedic surgeon who has somehow found time to maintain the body of a professional weight lifter. He loves poetry, cooking, and giving foot massages (when I saw this, I rolled my eyes hard enough to pull a muscle). Hoping to take Mike down a peg, Abby announces to him that she has actually met the perfect man she has been dreaming of. Mike asks “has he asked you out yet?” Abby immediately marches to her phone, and calls Collin to ask him out. When Collin hesitates, Mike hangs up Abby’s phone with the comment “He was blowing you off.” Abby is angry, but it gets her attention when Collin calls back, as Mike predicted. Mike instructs “Now make him suffer. Put him on hold.” Once again, Collin reacts as Mike predicts. Mike and Abby make a deal that if she does as Mike says and she lands Collin, she will cooperate with his efforts at the network. If not, he’ll quit.

The rest of the movie is scenes of Mike giving Abby tips on seductive dress, flirting and teasing. None of it is funny, however, and a lot of it is disgusting. Every exchange follows this pattern:

He: We need to change your hair/clothing/eye color/butt.

She (indignant): What is wrong with it?

He: It makes you look sensible/professional/mature.

She: What is wrong with sensible/professional/mature?

He: Nothing, except

Eventually, Abby does land Collin. But by this point – you guessed it – Mike has fallen for her. We also learn a little more about Mike’s background; how he has been burned by a lot of girls that didn’t really like him, and made him what he is today. He eventually goes on a rant about how women don’t care about you, they only care about their checklist. All of this could have been fairly interesting if Luketic had taken the time to really get us inside the characters heads, but he seems to prefer to spend the time on shock value. By the end of act one, I was looking at my watch.

Mike, after wrestling with twins in jello. Don't worry; he only slept with the one that could read.

The script for this film was written by three women, and Mike Chadway seems to be their attempt to incorporate the male perspective on relationships. Mike is a tad likable for a minute here and there just because he’s not ashamed of being a guy. But in the end, what his lines amount to is a restatement of the same things that bitter, sexually frustrated women say about men. In other words, Mike has only found a more phallocentric way of saying “men are pigs.”

For example, in one scene where he coaches Abby, he tells her “Never criticize. For men, self improvement ends with toilet training.” Doubtless a lot of women feel this way. It is nonsense, however. Men have plenty of interest in self improvement. The problem is women tend to think that they can mold a man into who they think he should be through nagging and criticizing. It doesn’t work on them, so I don’t know why they think it will work on us.

The worst thing about The Ugly Truth isn’t the gross dialogue or the choppy editing. It’s the utter sadness I felt for anyone who could actually connect with this movie. As I sat watching it with my beautiful wife curled up next to me, I wondered what it would be like to have to believe that there is no hope of anything better than the occasional cheap thrill in relationships.

Because that’s what the writers seem to believe. Neither Abby nor Mike ever really grow or learn anything; they just inexplicably fall in love with each other on a hot air balloon. Cut to the final scene of the two of them in bed. There was actually another ending filmed that involves the two of them getting married. Mike gives a speech in which he says “It’s true that every woman has a checklist, but occasionally a regular guy like me can sneak onto that checklist by using good old fashion true love.” They could have at least partially redeemed the movie if they had used this ending. Sure, the theatrical ending fits better with the spirit of the movie, but why would you want to do that?

So I hope you’re as repulsed by The Ugly Truth as I am. If nothing else, watching it made me appreciate my love-filled and passionate marriage. Which brings me back to the question: why was I even watching that tripe? The reason was, she asked me to watch it with her, and I knew it would make her happy if I did. Yeah. I’m a stud.

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