Review: Above The Law (1988)


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Starring: Steven Seagal, Pam Grier, Henry Silva, Sharon Stone

Fight Choreography by Steven Seagal

Directed by Andrew Davis

In 1988  martial arts films were going strong, with Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh ruling the roost. And in the USA we had…an aging Chuck Norris. And that was it. When would another martial artist step forward for America? Enter two films: Bloodsport and Above the Law, the latter of which introduced the world to the martial arts style Aikido and its practitioner, Steven Seagal.

Steven Seagal plays Nico Toscani, a Chicago cop who used to be special forces CIA who got sick of it after witnessing a man being tortured by maniac CIA operative Zagon (Silva) and quits in the middle of the op, because in the 80s you could do that. Now a detective along with his partner Jax (Grier) he gets involved in a drug ring run by Zagon and a group of CIA operatives who are plotting to kill a US Senator who is investigating their clandestine operations (whew!). But when they go after Nico’s family and church, Nico dispenses his own brand of street justice, because as he says “you think you’re above the law. but you ain’t above mine.” Hell yeah 80’s action!

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This film not only made Seagal an action star, but also cemented the style of films he would make: small scale urban justice films, not unlike the Death Wish movies. Seagal is pretty one-note here but does have that elusive on screen charisma. Henry Silvia is, well, Henry Silvia, an always dependable actor when you need a baddie you can hiss at. Pam Grier is okay but she needed to be more than the “put-upon” partner as well as the woman that needs to be protected despite the fact she’s a cop too. This is Pam god****mn Grier. She’ll deliver your dick in a jar to your girlfriend. Surely she could have been presented as more that what she was. Sharon Stone is also in the film in a small role as Nico’s wife, but she doesn’t do much except spending the film trying to get Nico to give up, which means she’s and incredibly annoying character whenever she’s on screen. Andrew Davis does a great job directing here, and his future films Under Siege and The Fugitive would further cement him as a solid film director.

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The opening scene, where Seagal shows off how Aikido works in a dojo is one of the best fight scenes in the film. It really does a great job showing audiences not familiar with the style a little of how it works. The next best fight scene is later in the film, where Seagal takes on a group of thugs in a grocery mart. You can tell the floors are rubber, and many of the moves shown in the beginning are repeated here, but now in a practical setting, but it’s still good. The one thing I didn’t like that will become a staple of many of his movies is that Seagal never fights anyone of a similar skillset, so there is no real challenge. Henry Silva basically gets what I call Getting Seagaled (TM): where the bad guy gets beaten and tossed around like a rag doll, not providing any challenge to the hero whatsoever and dies easily.

Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8

A good film that shows off the style of Aikido well and gives a strong introduction to a new action hero, and would become a template for the majority of the films in his career. Pam Grier is wasted here, however.

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