“The Brave One”

Jodie’s got a gun. And me? I’m playing the crying game.

That’s because “The Brave One” — which teams two-time Oscar-winner Jodie Foster with “Crying Game” director Neil Jordan — proves that artists of their caliber (no pun intended) are just as capable of making a soulless revenge thriller as any Hollywood hack.

Ye gods, but that’s depressing.

Maybe someone (maybe even Foster) thought it would be provocative to cast her as an urban avenger in the “Death Wish” mode, hearkening back to her first Oscar-nominated role (at age 14) as the child prostitute “Taxi Driver” Travis Bickle hopes to save. (To say nothing of Foster’s real-life connection to grand-scale gun violence, as wannabe Ronald Reagan assassin John David Hinckley’s obsession.)

Whatever the reason, pistol-packin’ payback’s in season as “The Brave One” slogs through the mean streets of Manhattan, pretending to be about important stuff like pain and loss and justice, when it’s really about blowing away the bad guys.

But at least its protagonist has the decency to feel bad about it. When she’s not feeling good about it.

Then again, you can understand her mixed emotions.

After all, Erica Bain (Foster) is doomed to suffer a tragic fate. We know it from the moment we catch a glimpse of her with her fiance (“Lost’s” Naveen Andrews).

She has a show on a New York public radio station, “Street Walk,” in which she ponders the ephemeral, ever-changing nature of the Big Apple. He’s a doctor who looks sexy even in scrubs. And they’re so blissfully, disgustingly happy together their days must be numbered.

Their number comes up during a nocturnal romp in Central Park with their playful pooch. They’re attacked by a trio of slimy thugs who beat Erica within an inch of her life — and leave her poor fiance with no life at all.

Understandably shattered by the assault, Erica is so paralyzed by fear she can hardly venture outside her apartment.

She has to do something — and the something she does is buy an illegal handgun, which comes in mighty handy when a shooting occurs at the corner store. And when punks terrorize subway passengers. And when a sleazy pimp torments the teen hooker he kidnapped back in Vegas.

As the bodies pile up, the mysterious avenger’s exploits become the talk of the town — even on Erica’s radio show, where various callers echo her own reactions to her anonymous crimes, from approval to disgust to a forbidden but undeniable thrill.

But maybe her crimes won’t be anonymous for long. Not with dapper Detective Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard) on the case.

A loyal listener of Erica’s, Sean strikes up a tentative friendship with the wary radio host — even as he and his sardonic partner (Nicky Katt, scoring once again in customary comic-relief mode) investigate the mystery vigilante’s string of slayings.

Their cat-and-mouse conversations circle ever closer to the awful truth — especially when someone thoughtfully takes out one of Sean’s most wanted suspects from a previous case.

It’s only one of many credibility-straining coincidences that help make “The Brave One” so frustrating.

That’s because the movie has the seeds of a truly compelling psychological thriller.

Along with the usual questions surrounding vigilante justice — including whether it qualifies as justice at all — “The Brave One” also flirts with the idea of retribution as rehabilitation, of wiping out feelings of powerlessness by making others feel exactly the same way. Until they, like Erica, can’t feel anything at all.

But screenwriters Roderick Taylor and Bruce A. Taylor (they’re father and son) and Cynthia Mort are too busy concentrating on their connect-the-dots plotting — and upping the body count — to bother exploring any deeper themes.

Director Jordan, meanwhile, distracts himself (and, he hopes, those of us in the audience) with stylized but thuddingly obvious visual touches, from off-kilter camera angles to countless mirror shots designed to reflect Erica’s double life.

It’s that kind of labored literalism that makes you wonder if Jordan has undergone a traumatic experience. At least that would explain his apparent transformation from the intriguingly eclectic director of “Mona Lisa,” “The Crying Game,” “The End of the Affair” and other more-than-meets-the-eye dramas. Or maybe he just needs to go back to writing his own scripts.

That way, such persuasive performers as Foster and Howard would have something more interesting to play than the far-fetched twaddle “The Brave One” gives them.

Even so, they manage to bring a bit of nuance to the profoundly unsubtle proceedings.

Howard captures Sean’s conflicts so well you can almost see the cynic and the righteous crusader duking it out for control.

And Foster’s role as the battered, embattled Erica is right in her wheelhouse; she’s been playing fightin’-mad victims who fight back so well for so long (particularly in her Oscar-winning portrayal of a rape victim in “The Accused”) that her mere presence provides instant intensity.

But Foster brings a fierce, feral power to Erica’s transformation from victim to vigilante — one that’s a lot more compelling than “The Brave One” deserves.

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