Plot: Nico (Steven Seagal) was an elite special agent for the C.I.A., but he walked out after his fellow agents abused prisoners of war. Years later, Nico has joined the Chicago Police Department as a narcotics detective and enjoys both his work and the family life he has been able to build. While there is some corruption within law enforcement, Nico is a hard liner and refuses to even entertain the thought of looking the other way, as he wants to clean up the streets. On a recent bust, Nico assumes they have intercepted a massive drug shipment, but instead, the traffickers have been transporting powerful explosives. He is stunned when the criminals are released without reason and when he tries to get answers, he runs into dead ends and silence. He pushes the issue, but is warned off, then suspended, and finally, his own church is targeted with the kind of explosives found in the bust. Can Nico get to the bottom of this or will he be silenced for good before he uncovers the truth?
Entertainment Value: Steven Seagal vs. Henry Silva is a showdown for the ages, so on that basis alone, Above the Law is an action movie must, but even beyond that, this is a fun ride for genre fans. The narrative is all over the place, with street gangs, corrupt government agents, drug trade, and illegal immigration, but of course, the real story here is Seagal taking down a parade of villains. The plot doesn’t make sense, but it does let Seagal loose to unleash his action skills and his wooden persona, both of which are immense fun in Above the Law. The pace here is on the slow side, as there’s more focus on characters than most of Seagal’s movies, so don’t expect wall to wall action, though there is a good amount here. This includes gun battles and chases, but most of the action is martial arts combat, as you’d expect. The scenes are typical Seagal and I don’t mean that as an insult at all, just that he does what he does, breaking limbs and kicking ass while barely moving in the process. I think it is fun to watch and Seagal’s laid back action attitude is one reason he stands out from other action hero peers, not to mention it adds some b movie vibes to his performances.
The cast of Above the Law is an impressive one, though some of the big names are given smaller roles and don’t appear that often. Pam Grier is great here and makes the most of her scenes, but she drifts out of the movie after a while, despite her character staying a central narrative element. I appreciated seeing her get some good chances to shine and she nails those moments, so her fans shouldn’t miss this turn. Sharon Stone also has a smaller role in this one, but she is also memorable, thanks to an over the top, wildly emotional performance. Seagal has the lead of course and while some dislike his wooden presence, I think it is humorous. In otherwise routine scenes, his deadpan deliveries can spice up the script and add some laughs, provided you appreciate b movie style elements in action cinema. I loved seeing Henry Silva here, he is such a hall of fame movie villain and he gets some good screen time in Above the Law. I wish the finale wasn’t so abrupt, but Silva conveys menace well, as always. The cast also includes Ron Dean, Daniel Faraldo, and in a very small role, Michael Rooker.