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Shorttakes: And Justice for All 

Law Abiding Citizen asks, what's your revenge fantasy?

Law Abiding Citizen ** 1/2

Working from a script that borrows heavily from Se7en, Law Abiding Citizen can't make up its mind if it wants to be a right-wing revenge fantasy à la Death Wish or an indictment of those kinds of attitudes. The movie seems to want it both ways. Consider the storyline: Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) watches helplessly as his wife and daughter are murdered during a home invasion. When the perpetrators are caught, he hopes to have his day in court and maybe see a little justice. But prosecuting attorney Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) takes that opportunity away by cutting a deal, fearing the case isn't strong enough to stand on its own after a key piece of evidence is thrown out by the judge. Unsatisfied with this turn of events, Clyde sets in motion a ridiculously convoluted 10-year plan to teach Nick the correct way to do his job.

Clyde starts by killing the thugs who murdered his family, causing the execution by lethal injection of one to be horribly botched and brutally dismembering the other. Once behind bars for these crimes, Clyde starts killing those he blames for robbing him of justice, apparently saving Nick for last. In keeping with the rules for this sort of movie, Nick has the chance to prevent the deaths. Law Abiding Citizen straddles the fence right up to a conclusion that, due to its lack of any clear moral stance, fails to be either cathartic or thought-provoking.

There's a difference between a film being ambiguous for the sake of making an audience ponder the issues it raises and one that simply lacks conviction. This feels like the latter. Director F. Gary Gray does his best to give this material the dramatic weight it lacks and stages some arresting visuals — like a scene juxtaposing the cello recital of Rice's daughter with Clyde's dismemberment of one of the killers. Foxx and Butler make their stock characters more interesting than they have a right to be. (Robert Ignizio)

Opens Friday areawide

The Boys are Back ****

It's funny how the movies will change a person. Consider Simon Carr, a political columnist for Britain's The Independent, whom former Prime Minister Tony Blair once called "the most vicious sketch writer working in Britain today." Yet it's not his scabrous wit that brings Carr to the screen, but a touching memoir he wrote about his life as a widowed father raising his young son and older boy from a previous marriage. The book, a sort of wry parenting manual for the hopelessly messy, is the basis of The Boys Are Back, directed by Australian Scott Hicks (Shine).

Through cinematic alchemy, the paunchy, balding Carr has been transformed into the impossibly handsome Clive Owen, who plays Joe Warr, an English sportswriter living in Australia. Joe's beloved ex-equestrian wife (Laura Fraser) dies of cancer, leaving Joe alone to raise 6-year-old Artie (Nicholas McAnulty). Overwhelmed by his unaccustomed responsibilities and Artie's inconsolable grief, Joe determines to say "yes" to every childish request, no matter how silly or inconvenient, and to approach housekeeping with casual indifference. Let Artie steer the truck? Yes! Can he put on wet clothes directly from the clothesline? Why not? The increasingly disheveled all-male household is expanded when Joe's adolescent son, Harry (George MacKay), who lives in England with Joe's ex-wife, joins them, bringing along a case of culture shock and unresolved feelings of paternal abandonment.

The movie is achingly sad at times, and in lesser hands might have been a mawkish mess. But it is lovely and moving, with exceptional talent at work. Allan Cubitt's screenplay preserves much of Carr's real-life dialogue and is subtle enough to make events like the occasional reappearance of Joe's dead wife seem completely natural. Owen's taciturn demeanor is well suited to a man trying to keep his emotions under control, McAnulty is cheekily adorable without being cloying, and MacKay is persuasive as conflicted prep-schooler Harry. Scott Gray's rhythmic editing is remarkably effective, and cinematographer Greig Fraser, who also made Bright Star so pretty, paints the Australian countryside with a lively, luminous palette. (Pamela Zoslov)

Opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre

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