Late one night, Liotta, a Los Angeles cop, savagely wallops an unarmed black criminal suspect with his nightstick. "He resisted," the cop explains to an incredulous bystander. That scene has a brutish, visceral impact that's missing from the rest of this undistinguished thriller.
Unlawful is about a cop (Liotta) who sets up an honest citizen (Russell) because he covets the guy's wife (Stowe). Their paths first cross when the cop investigates a robbery at the couple's posh house and starts making eyes at the wife. Soon, Russell, playing a real estate developer, finds waiters telling him that his credit cards have maxed out and his car has been booted for unpaid parking tickets. Coincidence? He thinks not. And he knows not, once Liotta puts a gun to his head and asks, "What are you gonna do? Call a cop?"
Director Jonathan (The Accused) Kaplan has said he wanted this to be a movie about class tensions, the uniformed working man versus the yupster. Dream on, buddy. Unlawful is simply about a guy gone seriously wacko. The thinness of both the characters and the plot becomes especially apparent in the film's completely predictable denouement. (R)