Chicago cop Nico Toscani (Steven Seagal) has an interesting past, having visited Japan as a young man and learned to be a black belt in aikido there. As he was doing that, he attracted the attention of the C.I.A. which recruited him for their own ends, largely to assist in the fighting of the Vietnam War which was raging at the time, something he felt it was his patriotic duty to do. However, one night the amount of torture he was being ordered to carry out began to truly sicken him, and his superior, Kurt Zagon (Henry Silva) was the worst of all his commanders in his eyes so he quit. But they would meet again...
Here's where the movie career started for Steven Seagal, a mysterious figure mainly through his own storytelling, which at the time offered him some cachet among action fans as all that stuff in the introduction about having been a C.I.A. operative and being an expert in martial arts was precisely what he claimed about his own background. There were a few sceptical eyebrows raised when he made these allegations, but it did appear to be true that Seagal had the conspiratorial mindset which saw the spies destabilising whatever countries and societies they could if it meant the United States won in this battle of oneupmanship.
Therefore Seagal appealed to the kind of person who liked to believe all that stuff that went on in the action thrillers of the day could well have been the God's honest truth, something which eventually divided opinion into those who kept the star's movie career going by buying anything with his name on - and keeping his music career going, too, for that matter - and those to whom he looked to be something of a self-important target of fun. Certainly when Above the Law was released he was intriguing a lot of moviegoers unsure quite what to make of him, which raised his profile to the extent that you can "blame" the success of this effort on the fact that he was still a star well into the twenty-first century.
The plot of this one, co-written by Seagal, did get bogged down in the paranoid parapolitics, but director Andrew Davis, who also had a hand in the script, made sure to keep the gunfire and fisticuffs flowing so that you could easily watch the entire thing and not feel troubled by the way Steve seemed to want to lecture you, indeed many were not enlightened at all by Above the Law and simply viewed it as one of those production line shoot 'em ups. Stop me if you've heard this one before: Vietnam veteran, now a maverick cop, trying to divide time between family and duty, going it alone to track down drugs traffickers... you get the idea, it could be any he-man star in the role.
Yet Seagal was angling for a more distinctive presence even if his debut, and his follow-ups for that matter, fit the usual template of whatever action runarounds were fashionable at the time. Here we can tell Nico is on the side of right because he's protecting not only the entire community, but the entire Catholic Church to boot as the baddies set off a bomb during a mass. What this has to do with the C.I.A. is questionable, but apparently they are dedicated to sabotaging a new senator's campaign which would expose them for the double dealers that they are, which is all very well but more interesting than that was seeing Seagal's cop partner was Pam Grier, firing off guns again like the seventies were still with us. Also present was Sharon Stone in a nothing role as Nico's wife, but Silva at least brought relish to his by the numbers bad guy. Whether you felt enlightened by all of this was debatable, but it was average enough. Music by David M. Frank.