Above the Law (1988)
It's Nico Time
I first watched "Above the Law" back in the early 90s and whilst I enjoyed it, especially Steven Seagal's brand of action I never thought it was great, just another action movie. Ironically watching it again now 25 years after its release and having sat through many of Seagal's more recent direct to DVD movies it almost feels award worthy. In truth it still isn't but seeing Seagal in his debut, doing his own action, some impressive stunts and looking half of the man he is now it comes across so much better.
As a young man Nico Toscani (Steven Seagal - Kill Switch) was recruited by the CIA as part of a special ops team but when he witnessed the cruel techniques of Zagon (Henry Silva - Ocean's Eleven) he quit. 15 years later and Nico is now a Chicago cop, with a wife and a young child plus Delores 'Jacks' Jackson (Pam Grier) his supportive partner who allows him to fight crime in his own way. But when on what they think is a drugs bust they uncover military explosives being smuggled in it brings him a lot of trouble and the FBI making life difficult for him. And when someone sets off a bomb in his church, killing his friend the priest Nico sets out to bring who ever it is behind it down no matter what.
It's difficult not to compare "Above the Law" with other Seagal movies, especially his more recent ones and the first thing which sticks out is the story. Now in truth the basic storyline isn't much of a surprise as it all boils down to Nico going after those who are threatening him, his family and friends but what is a surprise is the amount of story which goes with it. We have back story to Nico, we have the FBI who seem hell bent on making life difficult, we have his friendship with Jacks, we have an illegal immigrant, drugs, gangs and a lot more which all combine not so much to make a decent movie but one which feels embellished.
What also sticks out is Seagal himself because it is hard not to comment on how thin he looks compared to now. It is sort of unsettling when you not only see Seagal in a vest and skinny jeans but also running but the good thing about all this is that back in 1988 Seagal did his own action and it was exciting. Watching him as Nico deal with a group of bad guys maybe a comical cliche but the snappy action is impressive and watching him run or dive on to a moving car is exciting even if it is just a cliche. It sort of makes you sad to watch all of this now because you realise how inferior the action is in modern Seagal movies compared to this.
Aside from the fact we have a skinny Seagal we also have a variety of recognizable faces from Pam Grier as Jacks and Sharon Stone as Nico's wife to Henry Silva as the sadistic Zagon. Yes Zagon is a pantomime villain, completely over the top but Silva has fun playing him and looking menacing. In truth none of the characters are that great and not that well acted but at least with recognizable stars they keep your attention. And on the subject of acting, well in his first movie Seagal is a bit ropey but he is by no means terrible, just unsure and occasionally looks embarrassed by what he has to say.
What this all boils down to is that "Above the Law" was just another reasonable action movie when it was released and still is. But watching it now it seems so much better than pretty much all of Seagal's more recent movies and worth a watch for those who only know Seagal from those recent direct to DVD outings.
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