Friday, May 4, 2012
FILM REVIEW OF ''ABOVE THE LAW" (1988)
Steven Seagal looks emaciated in director Andrew Davis’ hard boiled crime thriller “Above the Law,” (*** out of ****) co-starring skull-faced Hollywood heavy Henry Silva as a knife-wielding psycho. Reportedly, Seagal broke into the film business because one of his students, the highly respected Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz, made it happen. “Above the Law” qualifies as a formulaic law and order epic about narcotics smuggling and an assassination attempt on an incorruptible U.S. Senator. Most of the action takes place in Chicago with Seagal defeating the loathesome villains with his usual brand of aggressive tenacity. Seagal uses Aikiko on them when he isn’t swapping lead. The title refers to nobody being immune from justice. Ironically, Davis emphasizes this point with newsreel footage of U.S. President Richard Nixon quoting Abraham Lincoln on the subject. Remember Nixon was the Republican who resigned in disgrace over the Watergate Scandal. The Andrew Davis & Steven Seagal screenplay features more autobiographical material about the martial arts star than any of his other epics. Indeed, “Above the Law” provides a glimpse of Seagal as a youngster with several genuine pictures of the actor. Composer David Michael Frank betrays the late 1980s origins of “Above the Love” with his cheesy B-movie score. Nothing surprising occurs as our stalwart hero tackles the villains with a vengeance. The villains are merciless dastards, but Nico cuts them little slack. As it turns out, the CIA has ties with organized crime.
Making his motion picture debut, Seagal casts himself as an Italian-American born in Palermo, Italy, who immigrated to America at age seven. He saw a martial arts demonstration at a baseball game later on when he was a teenager. Company agent Nelson Fox (Chelcie Ross of “Major League”) initially recruited Nicolo ‘Nico’ Toscani into the CIA. Before the Agency approached him at an Embassy function in Tokyo, Nico had studied and taught martial arts in Japan. Our naïve protagonist totes an M-16 along the border of Vietnam and Cambodia on assist and observe missions. He witnesses some things that he should haven’t seen. “Above the Law” gets off to a good start as Nico encounters Colonel Kurt Zagon (Henry Silva of “The Hills Run Red”) as the latter is interrogating a native in the jungle. Somebody, it seems, has been tampering with Zagon’s opium. Our hero doesn't understand what any of this has to do with acquiring intelligence about the enemy. Nico and Zagon clash, setting up expectations for a gory finale about an hour later.
The action shifts years later to contemporary Chicago. Toscani has a wife Sara (Sharon Stone of “Basic Instinct”), and they have just attended the communion of their first child Giuliano. Nico’s pals on the force laugh about him for having more relatives under federal indictment than any other cop in Chicago. When he isn’t patrolling the streets, Detective Sergeant Tosconi takes care of personal business relating to the disappearance of his attractive young niece. Seagal’s first cinematic fight takes place in a bar as he is searching for her. Even the bartender knows what to expect when Nico enters. “This ain’t nothing but trouble coming in my place tonight,” he observes with dread. Nico gets a tip from the low-life, Alex (Christopher Peditto), who was getting his niece hopped up on drugs. Alex doesn't want to go to jail so he babbles about a hooker and a cocaine lawyer setting up a deal. Nico slaps him around enough until he provides a name. Nico is the kind of cop who isn’t above breaking the rules. He eavesdrops via a wiretap on a conversation between a couple of Columbians. He gets wind of a shipment arriving in an engine block at the Fulton Meat Market. Later, at the market, the Feds blow the case for them and Nico chases the villains in their car on foot. He throws himself in front of their Lincoln and tumbles across the hood and atop the roof. After they blow some holes in the roof, Nico smashes a passenger window and clamps a hand onto Tony Salvano, one of the lawyers. This is a reasonably suspenseful scene. Nico is shown spread-eagle clinging to the roof of the Lincoln while the driver swerves in an effort to dislodge him. Eventually, the driver obeys his boss and pulls over. Afterward, Nico and his buddy Detective Lukich (Ron Dean of "Code of Silence") take apart the engine block. Instead of narcotics, they discover several packages of C-4 explosives. The Feds arrest Tony Salvano, but they let him off the hook because he is a government snitch.
After FBI agent Neeley releases Salvano and his driver, they check out St. Mary’s Church where Nico has attended. While they are in the church, , Father Gennaro (Joe V. Greco) introduces Nico and Jackson to Father Tomasino and his refugees who are hiding in the basement of the church. The next time Nico shows up for church, a bomb goes off. The Father delivers a message about knowing the truth. “Our leaders tell us and talk to us about them and us. But almighty God talks to us about all mankind as one. Now, we have an obligation to find out what is the truth. We need to study. We need to question. We need to read and we need to find out what they are doing in our name. And we must support those brave souls who seek the truth.” Not long after the sermon, a woman departs the sanctuary. Nico spots a suspicious sack moments before it explodes and kills Father Gennaro. Later, Nico discovers that the blast was meant for Father Tomasino. The blast kills Father Gennaro. After the explosion, a carload of thugs tries to assault Nico and he shows them his stuff.
Afterward, the Feds come down hard on Nico and persuade the Chicago Police Department to suspend him. He surrenders his gun and badge. This doesn’t prevent Nico from carrying out his own investigation. Nico meets Fox on a skyscraper. We learn that Zagon has a four thousand acre ranch in Costa Rica. Zagon wanted Senator Ernst Harrison assassinated because he was going to expose their plans to invade Nicaragua using cocaine money. As it turns out, Father Tomasino learned about it while in Nicaragua and Zagon fears that he may have told the senator. Zagon doesn’t want to kill the senator is word has been leaked about it. Nelson holds Nico at gunpoint about the same time that Zagon and his cronies arrive in an underground garage. A gunfight erupts and the bartender kills Nelson who slides Nico his gun. More shots are fired and Salvano is hit. Nico backs a car into Salvano and runs the car half out of the high rise parking lot so Salvano plunges onto the elevated railway and is electrocuted to death. Zagon and his thugs pursue Nico in another car. They run Nico down, pick up him, and prepare to torture him. Nico surprises them, breaks through his restraints, and devastating them. He kills two with a shotgun and breaks Zagon’s arm when he threatens him with a knife. Afterward. He snaps Zagon’s neck. Later, Senator Harrison drops by Nico’s house and thanks him. Apparently, Nico appears before Congress as “Above the Law” concludes with his testimony. “Gentlemen, whenever you have a group of individuals who are beyond any investigation who can manipulate the press, judges, members of our Congress, you’re always gonna have within our government those who are above the law.”