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'Above the Law'

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 09, 1988


Andrew Davis
Steven Seagal;
Pam Grier;
Sharon Stone;
Daniel Faraldo;
Henry Silva
Under 17 restricted

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Born in Sicily, raised in Chicago and educated in the martial arts in Japan -- that's a partial curriculum vitae for Nico Toscani, the cop hero of "Above the Law."

In addition, back in 1973 he worked for the CIA collecting military intelligence along the Vietnamese-Cambodian border -- that is, until he got wind of the agency's involvement in the drug trade and bailed out. Now, 15 years later and back home in Chicago, some of his old friends from the past come to town with plans to assassinate a senator who threatens to expose the drug network they're running through Central America.

And guess who has to stop them.

"Above the Law," which offers Steven Seagal to the world as a new urban action hero, is woefully short on originality, intelligibility and anything resembling taste. But none of this comes as a surprise. What is surprising is how little invention or energy there is in the movie's action sequences.

Seagal is a sort of Italianate Eastwood, but with a sleeker, Euro-trashy design. In fact, there are suggestions of so many other action heroes in this guy that he seems to have been assembled from leftover parts. The main problem is that he brings nothing of his own to the mix. He doesn't have the dancerly grace of Bruce Lee or the robust indestructibility of someone like Jackie Chan; there is no pleasure in watching him move. And he doesn't have a trace of the deadpan comic style of either Eastwood or Schwarzenegger. He's a walking knockoff.

In the press materials, the film's director, Andrew Davis, who directed Chuck Norris in "Code of Silence," calls Seagal "a Renaissance man." So what does that make William F. Buckley? God?

This movie may have the wackiest politics of any film since Dirty Harry first leveled his magnum in the name of law and order. First, it takes the high moral ground by exposing the CIA as the force behind all that is evil on the planet, then proceeds to pump lead into practically everything that moves. Wiretaps? No problem. Police brutality? Same deal. And the only Miranda this cop has ever heard of is Carmen Miranda.

Above the Law, at area theaters, is rated R and contains scenes of graphic violence.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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