Picks and Pans Review: Above the Law

updated 05/16/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/16/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Okay, all you serious cinema buffs and PG-oriented woozy-stomach types can skip to the next item. Action fans, stay here and rejoice. There's a new player on the slice-and-dice circuit, and in his dynamic film debut Steven Seagal hits the ground chopping. The actor, who looks like high-domed singer James Taylor with a smidgen of Pierce Brosnan thrown in, may end up giving all the other hard-boiled Hollywood heroes a run for their box office receipts. Above the Law has a muddled but serviceable plot in which Seagal plays a Chicago cop-martial arts ace who takes on barbarous, drug-dealing CIA operatives. The story is really beside the point, of course. The crucial thing is that Seagal observes the genre's bang-bang quota, racking up about seven violent confrontations every 20 minutes. These are his meat-and-potato scenes, and Seagal is one hellish trencherman. With his slightly lumpy (even at 6'4") body, he doesn't take his shirt off too often, and he can't run or shoot worth a damn, but in hand-to-hand combat, Seagal has no peer, not even Chuck Norris. He's as quick and deadly as a rattler. The things he does to perennial villain Henry Silva at the end of the movie would make a sushi chef squeamish. Seagal, formerly a bodyguard and, according to Warner Bros.' publicity department, a "sixth-degree black belt in aikido," seems to be a decent actor. But action stars, from Clint to Arnie, aren't called on for much range. What Seagal does have is a scowling, forbidding game face he puts on and keeps on all movie long. Filmgoers of discerning taste in these matters—those who, for instance, prefer Bruce Lee to Laurence Olivier—can only hope to see more of Seagal's grim visage in the future. (R)

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