Review: Above the Law

Above the Law U.S. poster

Directed by: Andrew Davis
Category: Badass Cinema

Surprisingly, I remember very little about this early Seagal effort. I don't know why, but whenever I think of Seagal's first films I automatically go to Hard to Kill. I think it's because that was the film where he really made a name for himself. I still remember vividly seeing the ad for Hard to Kill in my local newspaper in the entertainment section with the caption
"# 1 Film in America!". I tell you, I can remember shit like that yet I can't remember what the hell I did two days ago.

 Seagal plays Nicolo "Nico" Toscani, a tough detective for the Chicago police force with a bad attitude who, after busting up a drug ring with his partner Det. Delores "Jacks" Jackson (everyone has a nickname here), uncovers a plot involving the FBI, CIA, the state senator and Nico's former days as a CIA operative back in Vietnam in 1973 coming back to haunt him, all wrapped up in a convoluted plot involving corruption, drugs and torture.

In all honesty, the plot is way more complicated than it needs to be. I gave you a severely edited and shortened summary because I could spend the entire post writing about the plot and all the supblots and characters involved and it really wouldn't make a difference. There's just way too much going on with the story and an insane amount of characters to even try.

Above the Law AKA Nico Japanese poster
With that being said, I really enjoyed the hell out of this movie. I didn't remember anything about it to begin with, so technically it was like watching it for the first time and damnit, I had a blast with it. This is such a great example of the late 80's boom of action/martial arts films starring newcomers like Seagal and his arch nemesis Van Damme when there films were actually hitting the theaters. Remember those days? This same year Van Damme also came out with his breakout role in Bloodsport, so they were and have been literally going head to head at the beginning of both of there careers, which just so happened to start about the same time. Van Damme already had No Retreat, No Surrender under his belt, but Bloodsport was his first starring role.

I gotta give Seagal credit here, he carries the film pretty well and though he's a completely unlikable character, the bad guys are so much worse and when he's brave and tough enough to stand up against them, well you pretty much root for him in the end because when it gets down to business, Nico kicks some serious ass, even at the expense of his family and his partner's safety. He's a stubborn and rough around the edges kinda guy and when you tell him no, then it just means he'll do it anyway and he'll make sure of it since he's not supposed to. That's just the kind of guy he is, even though he's a cop, he's more likely to say "Fuck the law and your rules".
The fight scenes are aplenty in here, though you're not gonna see him doing flips or jump kicks or anything like that. Yea, Akido is not as exciting to watch as Kickboxing or pretty much anything Jackie Chan did in his career during this time, but holy shit is Steven Seagal one strong son of a bitch. The way he throws these guys around with such ease or can drop a dude twice his size with 2 hits is really fun to watch. Still weird to see him looking so thin though.

I'm really surprised that this was his first film because he's so confident in this. Some might say arrogant and cocky, which is definitely true and you can totally read that off of him, but he's always been a one-note actor without really being able to emit any kind of emotion other than pissed off, mad, angry or asshole. But that's been his method his entire career and it works alright for certain kinds of films, namely these.

Above the Law AKA Nico German Poster
Director Andrew Davis, who also gave us Code of Silence, Under Seige and The Fugitive, keeps the visuals to a minimum, often going for a more gritty than flashy look, but keeps the pace fast and the action (most importantly) plenty, injecting the screen with lots of fist fights, shootouts, chase sequences and car chases. To be quite honest, I was actually surprised at how fast the movie moved along and how much action there was. I really wasn't expecting a lot and thanfully, it was never dull.
Also of note is how Seagal seems to do most of his own stunts here. I mean you can actually see the guy holding onto the roof of a car as it's barreling down the street trying to shake him off or running on top of a moving train as he's trying to outrun a bunch of bad guys. Commendable to say the least. I know this was his first film and he was hungry, as they say, for the experience but I like to see when an actor isn't afraid to get there hands dirty, especially in a film like this.

Above the Law AKA Nico also sports a pretty badass and respectable supporting cast. For starters you have none other than Pam Grier (Foxy Brown, Jackie Brown) as Nico's soon-to-be-retired partner, Henry Silva as a high ranking CIA operative from Nico's past who resurfaces back into his life on the other side of the law and Sharon Stone as Nico's long suffering wife who offers a lot for such a small role. Say what you want about her choice in roles or the decision to go naked on screen at almost 50 for Basic Instinct 2, but when given the right material the girl can act and in the few scenes she's given here, she proves it.

Above the Law was much better than I expected it to be. The plot is unnecessarily complicated but there's so much action and violence in here that it doesn't take away from your experience. If anything, you just have a hard time trying to remember all these names they throw at you. Marked for Death is still my favorite Seagal flick, but surprisingly this one easily ranks better than Hard to Kill for me. Hard to Kill, though enjoyable, had too much suspense and the long drawn out sequences of him in the hospital and recovering afterwards really slowed the film down. Above the Law throws so many fights, chases and action at you at a feverish pace that when the final showdown goes down, it almost feels too brief.


  1. With such a great review I can only agree, about the confidence thing-as a 7th or 8th grade blackbelt in Aikido,the coolness just comes from that,there is no time to scream or yell like a karate or kickboxer guy would. You just have to drop your opponent fast. And since it takes a lot of concentration, the macho kinda screams and yelling aren`t necessary or useful here.

  2. I've got pretty much all Seagal's films on DVD and only just got round to watching this for the first time the other day. Not bad action but you're right the film's plot is too complicated by the end. I had to check wikipedia to understand the ending - which is pretty bad.

    The standout moment for me is he bit where he's running after a suspect. My god, does he run like a girl - all arms flapping. Very funny. No wonder you never see him running in subsequent films.

  3. I love this movie, it's one of my favorites, and it's crazy to think it's his first film and he was 37 at the time. Great stuff.

  4. Ingo: Thanks for the encouragement buddy. About the fighting, that makes sense. And it still doesn't take away from the entertainment factor, just watching him pummel a guy is still badass. The dude's freakin' strong!

    Jack: Great minds think alike. lol. I had to think it out a few times till I finally realized what the damn plot was ultimately about. So complicated. And you are right, I thought I was the only one who thought he ran like a girl. ha ha ha! It's hilarious!

    DtVC: Because of how well it's made, the cast and how fast it moves along with all the action and fight scenes, it easily ranks as one of my favorite Seagal flicks now. And you're right, he was basically my age now when he made this. Crazy! And he's so damn thin! I just can't get over it. lol.

  5. Fun Seagal flick! One of his best. Great review!