Law Abiding Citizen, F Gary Gray, 108 mins, (18)
Nativity! Debbie Isitt, 106 mins, (U)

Bereaved Everyman goes bonkers, and how to ruin the greatest story ever told

It's been a tough few weeks for cinema-going punctuation sticklers, what with October's Couples Retreat, and this week's big American film, Law Abiding Citizen.

But even if you aren't niggled by the truant hyphen, Law Abiding Citizen has a lot that's wrong with it. It opens, off-puttingly enough, with Gerard Butler's picture-perfect wife and daughter being murdered by two burglars. Philadelphia's smooth, self-serving deputy prosecutor, Jamie Foxx, does some plea-bargaining, and secures the death sentence for one of the crooks and five years in prison for the other. Butler isn't satisfied. With a cry of "Whatever happened to justice?," he resolves to punish the two criminals, and everyone else connected to the case.

Thus Law Abiding Citizen sets itself up as a vigilante thriller, not unlike the recent Harry Brown: morally repugnant, yes ... but fine if that's your guilty pleasure of choice. Pretty soon, though, the film-makers change their minds, and Butler's bereaved, aggrieved Everyman becomes a mad genius who uses home-made gadgetry to massacre his innocent victims, even while he's locked in solitary confinement. Again, that's all well and good if you want to see a far-fetched shocker about a serial killer who makes the Joker, Lex Luthor and the baddie from Saw seem like pickpockets – but Law Abiding Citizen doesn't stick with that genre, either. In half of his scenes, Butler is a wronged man who has something important to teach Foxx, about the compromised legal system. In the other half, he's Hannibal Lecter on steroids. So, are we supposed to sympathise with him or not? Law Abiding Citizen tries to be two kinds of exploitation film at once, and it ends up as neither.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that primary-school nativity plays are bearable only if your own children are in them, and, alas, the rule holds good for Nativity!, the latest improvised comedy from Debbie Isitt, the director of Confetti. This spirit-sapping slog stars Martin Freeman as a Coventry primary teacher given the job, under protest, of staging the school's Christmas show.

When he bumps into a rival teacher, Jason Watkins, Freeman boasts that his movie-producer ex-girlfriend, Ashley Jensen, is flying in from Los Angeles to turn his nativity play into a film. The small fact that the play hasn't yet been written doesn't prompt a single person to question Freeman's off-the-cuff fib: word gets out, and soon the whole town is treating it as a cast-iron promise of fame and fortune.

That might seem to make no sense whatsoever, but it's probably the most plausible part of a film that has a primary teacher nipping off to California in the middle of term with two of his pupils in tow. Nativity! might have been improvised by the actors, but should it really be quite so obvious that they were making it up as they went along?

Isitt's attitude seems to be that a coherent story and some half-decent jokes are surplus to requirements when you can point a camera at some perky children singing and dancing. After torturing us with 90 minutes of rehearsal montages, she makes us sit through the entirety of the school's Christmas rock opera at the end. That's not just adding insult to injury, it's adding injury to injury.

Also Showing: 29/11/2009

Séraphine (121 mins, PG)

A biopic of Séraphine Louis (Yolande Moreau), aka Séraphine de Senlis, a 20th-century Naïve painter who was discovered by a leading German critic, Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur), while she was working as a cleaner in a house he was renting. When the film opens, in 1913, Louis is a stooping, dumpy, middle-aged woman who bustles around in a grey hat and shawl, barely communicating with anyone else in her cobbled town.

Behind the closed doors of her garret, though, she paints febrile still-lives on wooden panels, believing herself to be guided by a guardian angel, and using paints she concocts herself from wild flowers and pig's blood. When Uhde starts selling her work, soon after he championed Henri Rousseau, Louis makes up for lost time by spending every franc that comes her way on expensive clothes and furnishings.

The winner of this year's César Awards for Best Film and Best Actress, Séraphine tells Louis's story in a sober, somewhat dull manner. Keeping a respectful distance from its heroine, it never risks getting inside the mind that could produce such bristling, psychedelic paintings, nor does it attempt to echo those paintings in its own serene visual style. It's like reading the introductory essay in an exhibition catalogue, except that it takes two hours. Personally, I couldn't stop thinking of Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent.

Mr Right (94 mins, 12)

Abysmal Brit-com about the on-off relationships of a bunch of gay Londoners, including a reality-TV producer (James Lance), his actor boyfriend (Luke de Woolfson), and an acquaintance (Jeremy Edwards) who might not be as straight as he keeps insisting he is. The thinking behind Mr Right, which is written and directed by a brother-sister team of first-timers, appears to be that the very existence of gay people is such a weird and wonderful phenomenon that no further characterisation is necessary. It means well, but it's one of those shoddy, very-low-budget British films that don't merit even a tiny release.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices