Director: Andrew Davis
Cast: Steven Seagal, Pam Grier, Henry Silva, Sharon Stone
Plot: Detective Nico Toscani (Seagal) has a drug bust stolen from him by corrupt FBI agents who might have a connection with his military past.
Above the Law, or Nico as it is commonly known, is a routine action from the 80s that’s only distinguishable quality from the rest of the B Movie action world is that it is the first film from martial arts superstar, Steven Seagal. Seagal may have limitations as an actor, but he definitely has an extensive filmography worth paying attention to.
Mind you, the way people have been raving about Seagal, you would think that his first film would work better to deliver on some Seagal entertainment. The thing with Above the Law is that it is clearly a Seagal vehicle, the martial arts hero being picked up by some producers to head this cop thriller. Above the Law is that typical action star movie where every plot device, set-piece and supporting character has been written in to service the star. A fight scene on a train is made to show off Seagal do some stunt work on top of a moving vehicle. A subplot involving a priest is added to show that Nico is a community-first kind of cop. All of this is very well and good – it is the same kind of movie we would get if Van Damme was the leading hero or Arnie. However, none of this streamlining of the plot makes Above the Law much good. For example, if you are going to pull an unknown off the streets and claim that his martial arts prowess makes the risqué casting worth it, then the fight scenes should be incredible. Jackie Chan’s early stuff is abysmal acting, but his fight choreography is so mesmerising, that doesn’t affect the final product. However, here, Seagal’s talents do not come across. I am sure the actor is a competent martial artist, a few shots showing that he has sharp reflexes and can pull off some neat moves, but the fight scenes here are so heavily editing, his talents do not come across. It is the kind of editing that is usually saved for actors brought in for their acting prowess rather than their fight skills. However, here, it feels like an anti-climatic footnote, where we were promised some interesting fight dynamics, but instead are given middling action. And of course, Seagal’s acting is just as stoically non-existent as you would imagine it would be. A close friend dies and he allows time for a cry of anger, before jumping back to tough guy heroics. It cuts the emotion of the scene down to its bare minimum. Of course, all of this was expected, but the problem is that Above the Law hasn’t got enough content to mask Seagal’s shortcomings. The plot slowly unfolds in a linear fashion, not quite surprising enough to subvert the plot. The bad guy, Henry Silva, isn’t bad, but held back too much from overshadowing Seagal. Sharon Stone, the best actress of the bunch, is given an insultingly shallow character – the weeping wife who stands by her man. This is Sharon Stone for pete’s sake! The only actor worth commenting on is Pam Grier, bringing her energy to the film, but more restrained than her more Foxy Brown persona. The end result is a film only worth following for Seagal fans and even then, he has much better efforts in store for us.
Final Verdict: A middle of the pack action thriller that doesn’t really deliver on those Seagal promises.