Anagram-named filmmaker F. Gary Gray must have set out to make a combination of Death Wish and Bourne Identity with this one – and then lost his nerve halfway through. As it stands, the film first expects us to despise Jamie Foxx as Philadelphia lawyer Nick Rice for making deals with crooks and gleefully beating the wussy legal system. But then somehow we’re supposed to change horses mid-film and see him as the hero. Sadly, we’d much rather cheer Gerard Butler as Clyde Shelton, who gets righteous motivations, though employs a smidge too much of a Dexter– or Saw-ish brand of justice.
It’s tempting to think of Butler as a great actor who has been slumming his way through a lot of slog lately (Gamer, 300), but a quick run through his career reveals a stunning proclivity for B-movie roles. (See Phantom of the Opera, Lara Croft, or Reign of Fire.) Yet he’s the only reason to enjoy this revenge melodrama. Far worse performances come from Foxx, who is a walking cliche with nowhere plausible to go with his character. Hilariously, Viola Davis as mayor of Philadelphia has her face screwed so tight she seems to be doing an impression of high blood pressure throughout most of the picture.
It’s too bad so much potential fun is squandered with an obsessive need for supplying a moral. For a moment, when Butler cusses out a judge and tells her where to stuff her justice, the movie seemed happily irreverent. The big bummer here is simply that the title isn’t ironic.