a critiQal film review Above the Law (1988)

Plot: In 1973, martial arts master Nicolo Toscani (Seagal) is recruited by the CIA and sent to Vietnam. While there, he becomes disgusted with the tactics of one of his superiors, Zagon (Silva), who used the war to get into the profitable drug smuggling business. 15 years later, a married Nico is now a Chicago vice cop, and, when he stumbles onto a CIA operation involving Zagon that takes the life of his priest and threatens his family,, he will stop at nothing to deliver his own brand of justice to these untouchables.

410 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 3s)
  • ...a bland martial arts action flick. Basically, a typical Seagal flick.

While scanning through what’s available on NetFlix® for instant viewing through our Wii, I ran across Above the Law, a Steven Seagal action pic from the 80’s. As I started watching it, I realized I had gotten it confused with with his next film Hard to Kill (1990).

Turns out, Above the Law is Seagal’s debut film. Would it showcase the man he would become in Under Siege (1992), or would his performance show how much he still had to learn?

Steven Seagal, who would later become a big martial arts action star, was the definition of wooden in his first performance. Unable to show emotion without it looking ridiculously forced, his stoic expression barely changes throughout the entire film, no matter what is going on around him. He goes through the motions of playing action hero, taking on all the bad guys with some decent martial arts sequences, but through it all he’s so…detached, which doesn’t help the viewer generate any sort of emotion for or against his character at all.

Some of his co-stars do help overcome this a bit, mainly Pam Grier and Sharon Stone. While Grier is obviously the limited comic relief of the film, always there with a joke when it’s needed, Sharon Stone takes over the emotions for this film, overdoing it to try and make up for Seagal’s blandness.

Unfortunately, the storyline behind Above the Law doesn’t help, either. A simplistic one vs many theme, with the many being the CIA, there are no twists that aren’t advertised long before they arrive. Even those cliched twists the viewer expects from the first moment don’t have the gumption to follow through with the cliche. It’s like the film is following a formula, then tries to pull a fast one on the viewer by straying from the formula – but all that comes across is a feeling of the film pulling it’s already weak punches.

Thanks to Seagal’s wooden first attempt at acting, and a bland formulaic storyline, Above the Law is definitely not one of Seagal’s better films. Even appearances from Pam Grier and Sharon Stone can’t save this one from itself, especially since the film seems to try to go out of it’s way to decrease their impact on the viewers.

A bland martial arts action hero flick, Above the Law, while largely forgettable, makes viewers long for another viewing of later films like Under Siege (1992). Heck, even Marked for Death looks decent in comparison.

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