After the rapist-murderer of his wife and child gets off with a deal from ambitious assistant District Attorney Nick Rice (Foxx), grieving, outraged Clyde Shelton (Butler) gets biblical, waging a one-man war against the entire criminal justice system and the city of Philadelphia...
Revenge thrillers never appeal to our better natures. They pander to lust for retribution, and get away with murder by appearing to offset wrong with right. But this is the kind of film that leaves you so disappointed in humanity, the planet would be better left to the cockroaches.
Death Wish vigilantism goes too far when you no longer grasp who you are supposed to be rooting for. No sooner has Jamie Foxx demonstrated commitment to his art with The Soloist than he takes complete leave of his senses to play an unbelievable character utterly unlikable from start to finish. His hotshot ADA, Nick, is arrogant, detached and no great shakes as a husband and father, either. After a horror-movie opening sequence of a home invasion, in which Butler’s ordinary, decent guy Clyde is stabbed and bound, helpless while his wife and little girl are at the mercy of a rapist murderer and burglar sidekick (and is inexplicably left alive to identify his tormentors), he has all our sympathy. And he gets even more when the lesser of two evils is condemned to death while the devil “co-operates” with the prosecution and gets a pass. We feel Clyde’s pain.
Ten years pass, which seems an arbitrary time lapse — until it emerges it would have taken at least that long for inventor Clyde to have amassed a fortune, accrued hitman expertise and constructed a lair only a Bond villain could love, packed with surveillance equipment, explosives, gadgets and clothes racks for 101 disguises. He’s like the Count Of Monte Cristo if Edmond Dantès had mad IT skills and a degree in engineering.
What ensues would just be silly if the cat-and-mouse game weren’t so vicious, a series of indiscriminate slaughters when Clyde has flipped from betrayed victim to maniac on a senseless mission. Director Gray is a money-maker (Friday et al), but taste isn’t his hallmark. The film lurches from one massacre set-piece to another, the manner of each death telegraphed with clumsy glee before it happens. Foxx’s Nick seems merely peeved that his own hypocrisy and superiority are being challenged, while Butler’s Clyde acts like he has rabies. One might argue for the defence that this is meant to be provocatively subversive, with the ‘good guys’ becoming indistinguishable from the bad. The jury doesn’t buy it.
Relentlessly ugly, preposterous and hackneyed of dialogue: guilty on all counts. It will do well, then.