'Above the Law' is a heavy-handed, preachy movie about the amoral goings on of the CIA, but the sideshow in this shoot-em-up directed by Andrew Davis and starring Steven Seagal is quite dazzling.
Seagal is an authentic black-belt martial arts expert, and his square-jawed good looks make him a natural for his part as the unorthodox but high-minded Chicago cop up against the sinister power of some CIA no-goodniks. He kicks, crunches and shoots his way through every frame with the prowess of a powerful dancer. He's not a bad actor either.
Seagal, who helped produce as well as develop the story for 'Above the Law,' plays Nico Toscani, a former CIA man in Southeast Asia in 1973. When he returns home to Chicago, he becomes a respected cop as well as the family and neighborhood protector. His favor to save an errant cousin provides a tip to a big cocaine operation, which he then aptly busts with the help of his beautiful and brainy partner, played by Pam Grier.
But the highly involved plot begins to thicken early on. Toscani's collar of a big cocaine dealer is undone by the FBI, which sets the dealer and his sidekick loose, presumably because they are in some vague way helping unnamed federal agencies.
Toscani refuses to back off the case. His doggedness finally wins over the FBI, but lands him smack up against a particularly evil CIA agent known as Zagon, played by Henry Silva -- an accomplished actor who specializes in villains, and who plays this sleazy character with gusto.
But before the showdown with Zagon, there's plenty of 1980s topical politics thrown in: the Sanctuary movement involving refugees from Central America is prominently featured; the dangers of cocaine and its ruthless merchants are dealt with; American foreign aid is an underlying theme. In addition, Davis has a good eye and ear when it comes to Chicago cops, and recruits a burly and straight-forward crew that seem to have come right from the streets of the Windy City; Seagal is definitely the best-looking guy among them, but then again, he's the star.
All the political intrigue proves to be too much, really, for one action drama. At least all the preaching is crammed into the last few frames of the film.
'Above the Law' has enough off-beat updates on the cops-and-robbers theme to at least make the film visually interesting most of the time. Seagal combines the steely-eyed bravado of Clint Eastwood in his Dirty Harry films with a dash of martial arts and a touch of urban street-smarts. It sounds awful and looks great.
This movie is rated R. Film contains violence and foul language.