And speaking of growth, he stars here as Nico, the world’s tallest Sicilian. He’s a Chicago cop from Palermo whom we’re introduced to by way of the war in Vietnam, and what else a but martial arts montage of epically 80s proportions where we get to hear him speak Japanese.
Flash forward to a 1988 christening and Seagal’s breaking language barriers again by showcasing his Italian in a big church and venturing over to a mandolin-infused party straight out of The Godfather.
More importantly, in Above the Law, we get our first glimpse of Seagal in the profession we’ve come to love him in in countless subsequent roles: an ex CIA man. If you were to put Seagal in King Lear, he’d be a monarch father to three daughters (and an ex CIA man).
On the Chicago PD, Nico is on the trail of a Salvadoran drug dealer. After he’s busted, they find more than they bargained for – explosives. And in an odd turn of events, the guy’s linked to a corrupt Vietnam military official Nico served with, who’s also CIA.
Nico’s partner on the force is the formidable Pam Grier as “Jacks” Jackson, and their banter here is a delight (“What is it about this place you don’t like? The element!”). It’s easy to forget that before the 2000s, Seagal was actually quick with his tongue before he began drawling ersatz Cajun* as authentic as Popeyes Louisiana Chicken.
More importantly though, he’s quick with his moves.
Above the Law features a lean, very mean Steve S. in a monumental bar fight, not as good as the one in Out for Justice (“Are you da boxa?”), but pretty darn exceptional, where he whips the butt of every guinea unibrow in the Windy City.
Later, he dispenses with a bunch of Chicano stereotypes in inimitable fashion.
A fellow cop derides his “martial arts hero, chop suey crap,” but this is the man at his finest.
Eagle-eyed viewers will spot Ron Dean as a Chicago detective. He’s known as the tough-as-nails dad to Emilio Estevez in The Breakfast Club.
***3/4 (out of 5)
[*Check out our latter day Steven Seagal movies discussion on the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]