Above the Law (1988, Andrew Davis)

Above the Law is just about as slick as a film can be. It’s all thanks to director Davis. Even though Davis and star Steven Seagal co-produced, Davis has to overcome Seagal’s acting inability. So all credit to Davis. It isn’t just about maximizing the action, but about getting the plot to provide some interest, so it doesn’t all feel like a commercial for Steven Seagal.

But it is a commercial; Above the Law is an amazing star vehicle. Everything is weighed to make the viewer more and more sympathetic to Seagal’s character. Oh, look, his suffering wife (Sharon Stone in a terribly directed performance) doesn’t want Seagal to battle the CIA task force blowing up Chicago to get Seagal. Oddly enough, the film was released overseas as Nico (Seagal’s character), which suggests some understanding of the egomania on display. But on beautiful display, because even though Davis significantly fumbles almost every action sequence, he’s got these great Chicago locations and he has a great sense of how to use them (which does lead to a rather good foot chase sequence), and he’s got photographer Robert Steadman, who is fabulous.

Unfortunately, editor Michael Brown is awful. He misses visual beats. It doesn’t matter, of course, because Above the Law isn’t actually an action movie, not in a traditional sense. It’s a prototypical mid-to-low budget major studio action movie. Something to not embarrass itself in the theater and do surprisingly well on video.

A slick commercial. Not so much visually slick, but almost pathologically manipulative in making a Seagal a serious movie star. Not an actor; Above the Law never asks Seagal to act. Davis does try to make him likable and is even able to get slight success with Pam Grier (though Davis fumbles directing their scenes; Brown being no help), but it’s not much. It’s never a good performance.

And I don’t even want to look at the Frank Silva villain, which leads to Seagal figuratively throwing away the previous standard–the more exploitative, lower budgeted action movie.

Inoffensive, likable performances from Grier and Ron Dean help a lot. Though Davis is clearly indifferent to his actors’ performances; no one gets any favors. So, either Davis or the editor. Can’t give anyone too much time, otherwise it might not look like Seagal’s a big time movie star.

In the end, Davis is due a lot of respect for this film. He’d be due infinitely more if Above the Law were actually any good.

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