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Above the Law(1988)
In his sensational screen debut, Steven Seagal smashes his way into the top ranks of action stars, playing a maverick Chicago cop tracking down ex-CIA operatives trafficking drugs…and plotting a political assassination. Director Andrew Davis unleashes the fury all over the Windy City as Nico and partner Jax close in on a psychotic crimelord.
For more about Above the Law and the Above the Law Blu-ray release, see Above the Law Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 16, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Director: Andrew Davis
Writers: Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett, Andrew Davis, Steven Seagal
Starring: Steven Seagal, Pam Grier, Henry Silva, Ron Dean (I), Daniel Faraldo, Sharon Stone
» See full cast & crew
Above the Law Blu-ray Review
Bullets and fist-fights and kicks... oh my!
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, April 16, 2009
Remember when all an action movie needed was a stiff-lipped block of muscle, a selection of biting one-liners, and enough adrenaline to lay out every thug who grabbed a chain or pipe? Sigh... those were the days. Audiences weren't looking for realistic storylines, nuanced villains, inventive scripts, or twenty-million dollar special effects. They just wanted to watch an invincible lunkhead beat the living daylights out of any scumbag who dared to cross his increasingly vindictive path. Those were the golden days of cinema's classic action heroes. Those were the days of Steven Segal.
In his hard-hitting 1988 screen debut, Above the Law, Segal steps into the bloody shoes of Sicilian immigrant Nico Toscani, a Chicago cop whose elite CIA training, years in Japan, and tour in Vietnam crafted him into a well-disciplined officer of the law. But when Nico and his partner (Pam Grier) bust a group of drug dealers and stumble onto a conspiracy involving the CIA and a load of C4, he's suspended from the force without provocation. Stubbornly pursuing his own investigation, he gets closer to the truth and encounters a familiar face from his past: a vicious intelligence agent named Kurt Zagon (Henry Silva). Now Nico has to restore order to the streets of Chicago, protect his wife Sara (Sharon Stone) from harm, and put an end to Zagon's extracurricular activities.
It's been almost seventeen years since I sneaked into my parents' basement with a secretly procured copy of Above the Law and partook of its bone-crunching violence for the first time. I remember my jaw coming unhinged as I bounced around on my couch and experienced the joy of being a semi-rebellious eleven-year old in a conservative Christian household. Fast forward to 2009. Sitting in my home theater staring at a cumbersome man dodging plastic knives and pounding a variety of thick-headed henchmen, I felt more embarrassment than nostalgia. I know a lot has changed over the years -- namely every aspect of the genre -- but I didn't expect to feel so little connection to a beloved actioner from my adolescence. Even so, the film makes it fairly clear why the famed aikido master quickly won the accolades of early '90s moviegoers searching for an actor who didn't graduate from the Stallone & Schwarzenegger Institute of Testosterone Studies. Not only is Segal's martial artistry more authentic than the bristling wares of other notable action heroes of the era, he embodies a less-is-more mentality that, at the time, must have been a welcome breath of fresh air.
I'll even admit that, despite my 2009 resistance to its 1988 charms, I had a bit of cheesy fun watching Above the Law. Seething rage? Check. Overtly graphic violence? Check. Snarky comebacks? Check. An endless lineup of satisfying fights and kills? Check and double check. There's even a surprising amount of plot and character development (superficial as it all is) to keep viewers invested in the film's dated dramatic undercurrent. Regardless, Above the Law will mainly appeal to the Segal faithful; those who continue to embrace his early work in spite of his recent direct-to-video efforts to derail a once-promising career. It isn't as entertaining as fan favorites Hard to Kill or Marked for Death, it doesn't hold up as well as Under Siege, and it probably won't win over many new converts to the fold, but rent it if you love late '80s action. Otherwise, move along.
Above the Law Blu-ray, Video Quality
I assumed a twenty-year old actioner like Above the Law would be hindered by a shoddy source, but I was surprised to find the film's handlers have preserved the original print quite well. The result is a 1080p/VC-1 transfer that looks pretty good... especially when you consider the fact that it hasn't been blessed with one of Warner's expensive frame-by-frame restorations. Even though frequent print specks and scratches still pop up on occasion, artifacting, banding, and digital noise do not. Likewise, while the film's stormy grain is aggressive and uneven, colors remain strong, fleshtones are naturally saturated, and comfortable contrast leveling injects some much-needed depth into the proceedings. Granted, fine detail is underwhelming compared to the best catalog remasters on the market -- too many soft shots litter director Andrew Davis' cut, texture clarity leaves a lot to be desired, and noisy, indistinct nighttime sequences hinder the impact of the overall presentation -- but I was satisfied with object definition and shadow delineation throughout. If I have any serious complaint, it's that telecine wobble destabilizes the image and gives it frequent (albeit minimal) seizures. In the end, Above the Law delivers a solid transfer that bests its standard DVD counterpart in every way. It's just unfortunate that it won't blow away Segal fans or Blu-ray regulars.
Above the Law Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Above the Law's video transfer may have escaped my critical wrath, but its Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track is too flat and flawed to get a pass. Dialogue is often overblown and overbearing, sitting high above the soundscape rather than dwelling within it. LFE tones pulse on cue, but fail to add any convincing weight or heft to the film's gimmicky effects. Worse still, the rear speakers are a barren wilderness, cramming the majority of the painfully uninvolving soundfield into the center channel. Directionality severely suffers as a result, pans are clunky and ineffective, and the tink-tak-tunk of David Frank's unoriginal techno-score sound as if it's been surgically removed from the rest of the mix. It all amounts to a lossless track that offers nothing more than a negligible upgrade over the audio package on the standard DVD.
Above the Law Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Sorry guys. Other than a theatrical trailer, the Blu-ray edition of Above the Law doesn't include any substantial supplemental material.
Above the Law Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Above the Law is a relic of a long-forgotten breed of action filmmaking; an aging introduction to a martial artist who already had his fifteen minutes of early '90s fame. I'm sure Segal's fanbase will scoop this one up in a stalled heartbeat -- the disc's low price will certainly assure that -- but I doubt they'll get the same kick out of the film that they did twenty years ago. And cheap as it is, the Blu-ray edition is a bust. Sure, it serves up a decent video transfer, but its mediocre TrueHD audio track and three-minute supplemental package make it an altogether disappointing catalog release. Give it a rent if you're jonesing for a cold jolt of nostalgia, but waste your time elsewhere if the only thing drawing your attention to Above the Law is its bargain bin price point.
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