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By Pete Vonder Haar | September 14, 2007

Whatever Bernie wants, Bernie Goetz.

As one who grew up in during the Golden Age of 1980s vengeance cinema, I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to see the resurgence in the genre taking place some 20 years later. First, Kevin Bacon visited extreme prejudice upon all those who mocked his “Footloose” dance moves in “Death Sentence.” Now comes “The Brave One,” in which Jodie Foster plays the other side of the “Accused” coin; eschewing the slow, unsatisfying machinations of the legal system in favor of the instant gratification of righteous violence.

Foster plays Erica Bain, the host of an NPR-style radio show about the sounds and moods of her beloved New York City; “the safest big city in the world,” as she calls it. This assessment quickly changes, for during a routine walk through the park she and her fiancé (Naveen Andrews) are brutally attacked. The attack is one of those nonsensically random cinematic assaults so specific to revenge flicks and late-night network news programs, further demonstrated by the fact that the assailants seem unconcerned with beating two people nearly to death (or completely, in the case of Erica’s doomed boyfriend) in a busy public park during the early evening hours.

She recovers slowly, but crimes of such savagery always leave internal scars to accompany those visible to the naked eye. Erica develops a bit of agoraphobia, but overcomes that in short order (mostly because it’s a fairly boring topic on which to hang a two-hour movie). She goes to her local police station to see how the investigation is progressing, but cooling her heels in the waiting room for an hour or so apparently sours her on the merits of the judicial process. And so, like the hundred of thousands of cinema crime victims who came before, she decides to buy a gun. She has to overcome an early roadblock (that pinko liberal-imposed waiting period), but in due course she’s packing heat and walking with the fresh confidence that only comes from a 9mm stashed in your purse.

Unlike its 80s-era counterparts, “The Brave One” is a bit more ambivalent about the wisdom of taking the law into your own hands. Sure, audiences will thrill to Erica blowing away a couple of comically menacing thugs on the subway, but Foster at least tries to bring a sense of the inner conflict and ensuing loss of humanity brought about by her character’s metamorphosis. The tension is apparent in Erica’s features and movements, while her “safest big city” references take on a jagged undertone in her post-vigilante radio shows. Her performance, along with director Neil Jordan’s canny ability to highlight Erica’s vulnerable physical stature while subtly altering the city’s feel are almost enough to make the movie a success.

But not quite. “The Brave One” was scripted by Roderick “The Star Chamber” Taylor and Bruce “The Equalizer” Taylor, two guys with plenty of experience in hoary world of payback entertainment. Try as they might, Foster and Jordan (and, to a lesser extent, Terrence Howard as an NYPD homicide detective) can’t wholly redeem the more ludicrous story elements, such as the aforementioned subway bogeymen, or that Erica finds herself in mortal danger so often you’d think New York had reverted to pre-Giuliani anarchy. And that’s not even mentioning the ending, which would prompt uproarious laughter coming from two actors of lesser talent than Foster and Howard, here it merely elicits pronounce eye-rolling.

That’s “The Brave One” in a nutshell; formulaic and creaky as a Harrison Ford action sequence, but sufficiently gussied up with good actors and a decent director so that you don’t entirely mind.

And Jodie Foster shoots people, which is pretty hot.

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