Before he was "out for justice" on the mean Brooklyn streets and "under siege" by terrorists on a U.S. Navy battleship, he was above the law. Yes, I'm talking about that quick-fisted, pony-tailed martial arts hero Steven Seagal and his 1988 starring debut "Above the Law."
Though his career hasn't panned out the way this debut promised, it is nonetheless a dynamic introduction to the mysterious world of Seagal, who plays Nico Toscani, a Chicago cop who as a child took up the Japanese martial art of Aikido and was some time later recruited by the CIA for covert operations in Vietnam.
After witnessing the cruel torture and executions of some Vietnamese hostages by ruthless CIA chemical interrogator Zagon (Henry Silva) and his cohorts, who also seem in on a secret drug running operation, he walks away from his career and retires to life as a cop on the streets of Chicago with wife Sara (Sharon Stone) and partner Jacks (Pam Grier). Things get dicey when two suspects collared in a recent drug bust are allowed to go free. The department silences concerns by announcing that the two men are part of a huge undercover investigation. But Nico doesn't buy it.
He suspects that something bigger is underway, and he's right. It isn't long before he stumbles onto a covert drug running operation right under his nose that involves his old CIA buddies, a local drug kingpin, some corrupt FBI officials and old nemesis Zagon, who is also involved in a political assassination plot. So Toscani, Jacks, and his Aikido fists of fury go to work on some really bad guys.
Directed by Andrew Davis and co-produced by Seagal (who also shares a story credit), "Above the Law" promises a mean and gritty portrait of law enforcement with the magnetic screen presence of the charismatic (if not necessarily wooden) Seagal in the lead. The picture opens with some black & white home movie footage of Toscani and accompanying narration, showing us this mysterious man's history. Seagal, who became the first American to open an Aikido dojo in Japan and at the time held a sixth-degree black belt in the art, was a world-renowned security expert before he started appearing in the movies and snapping necks, bending limbs, and using his opponents' own momentum and strength against them.
"Above the Law" does has some script problems, but it's balanced out by some rough & tumble action shoot-outs and nasty fights where Seagal throws his opponents into things and breaks and twists limbs 180 degrees in the opposite direction. But that is what his chosen sport Aikido does, as it employs joint locks, pins, and other methods meant to redirect and utilize an attacker's own strength and power against him. And Seagal does it perfectly.
Is "Above the Law" a sensational debut for Steven Seagal? Certainly, at least for his loyalists. As a casual fan, he has certainly made better movies since then and improved his "acting" skills but what will always dazzle us are the nifty arm-twists and breaks that prove he is a master of his Aikido craft.
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