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‘Out for Justice’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 17, 1991

The latest Steven Seagal epic, "Out for Justice," kicks off with a highbrow quote from Brooklyn-born playwright Arthur Miller, something about how when a man leaves his neighborhood he becomes a stranger in that neighborhood (the word "neighborhood" crops up a lot in this film). After the Miller quote, though, the dialogue rolls steadily downhill into Italian American expletives and the occasional subtitled Mafitalian (best subtitle, in its entirety: "but").

Soft-spoken Gino Felino (Seagal) remains above the law even as he goes inside it as a street-bred detective who can't quite decide between sheriff honor and outlaw justice. When his partner is gunned down in front of his family by a crack-crazed capo, Gino gets mad. Characters played by Steven Seagal always get mad, and of course they eventually get even, which is why he gets to keep making films.

Matters are complicated because the gunman (William Forsythe), who has surrounded himself with a gang of bloodthirsty B-actors, is also being hunted by the well-dressed Central Casting Family to which he has suddenly become a great embarrassment. In this neighborhood the only activities seem to be swearing, fighting, killing and, in Gino's case, talking.

Does Gino talk too much, or what? This is apparently to show that yet another thick-skinned Seagal character has a sensitive side (he even adopts an abandoned puppy, though he leaves it in the car for the entire movie). While there's plenty of action -- rumbles take place in a butcher shop (lots of cleaverage), a pool bar (sticks really do break bones) and a hooker's home -- things slow to a crawl every time Seagal slips into a weepy recollection of the old days in (you guessed it) the neighborhood. His feral eyes cloud up and his voice softly gurgles with the pain of it all. This may be Seagal's attempt at martial artiness, or simply his best Brando imitation; mostly it's hilarious, as is Seagal's wardrobe (he looks as if he should be policing the runways in Milan).

Though it boasts a big budget and is indeed busier and more densely populated than Seagal's previous efforts, "Out for Justice" feels cheap, not only in its production but in its content. It's "Scarface" without a point of view; it's shallow plot cluttered with extreme violence, both verbal and physical. Seagal, looking a little fleshy from his success, actually resorts to shooting half his well-armed tormentors. The villains are ultra-villainous, the women are simply extraneous and the math is suspect (four men in a car find out where Gino is; seven are killed when they attack him; two leave in the car). This is Old Jack City, a place where better actors and directors have taken us frequently in the last year. This particular trip seems unnecessary.

"Out for Justice" is rated R and contains explicit language, scenes of graphic violence, and maybe a kiss or two.

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