As a kid I remember reading in either CRACKED or MAD magazine a parody about movie heroes and villains. The story pointed out how, very often, heroes are much ruder and less well behaved than villains. For example, James Bond will burst into an enemy hideout; the villain will remark, "ah... Mr. Bond. Welcome to my humble abode." And Bond will say, "I'm going to take you down, you snake!" That's a crude example, but you get the drift. The new Law Abiding Citizen is like that, all the way through. The hero is a slick, well-dressed sort who is more concerned with his personal advancement than with the well-being of others. The villain is a highly intelligent, highly trained killer who is trying to rid the world of something broken and corrupt. The villain longs for his dead wife and daughter, while the hero neglects his wife and daughter. Whenever they meet, the villain speaks cordially to the hero, and the hero snaps back with a nasty attitude.

I suspect that, at some point, some clever screenwriter -- perhaps credited writer Kurt Wimmer -- intended all this stuff on purpose, like a subversive, twisted version of the usual Hollywood thriller dynamic. But director F. Gary Gray either did not pick this up or has chosen to ignore it, and presents Law Abiding Citizen as a straight-ahead thriller. Likewise, Jamie Foxx, cast as the good guy lawyer, seems to expect his natural charisma to make up for his character's moral center, and his performance comes across as rigid and unsympathetic. As the bad guy, Gerard Butler fares only slightly better, but only because his character is smarter, with more playful dialogue.