Friday, 28 November 2008

Out for Justice (1991)

Jerry Orbach as the Police Captain?
It's like I'm watching the best episode of Law and Order ever.

Watching all these Direct-to-Video Steven Seagal films have got me nostalgic for early Seagal. Really though, were those early Seagal films any good? Nostalgia is a funny thing, it's like a beautiful woman who beckons you near and then kicks you in the balls eleven times and throws you down a flight of stairs. Well, to answer that question I dug out Seagal's fourth (and arguably best) film, Out for Justice. Surprisingly it's good, real good. It's fast paced (none of that plot or characterisation bullshit), well choreographed and incredibly violent. Everything that I want out of an action film.

Let's get this out of the way: Seagal's character is named Gino Felino. That's not the name of an action hero, it's the name of a pizza chain mascot. I mean, if you're going to have such a ridiculous stereotype of a name, then you'd better earn it. To his credit, Seagal does try to speak a little Italian, but his accent drifts in and out so much you don't even notice he's supposed to have one until he says "Ey!". Anyway, he's the son of a poor Italian immigrant who grew up on the streets and became a cop, so he knows pretty much everybody in the area. As the film opens he fucks up a bust by intervening when a pimp (who also knows him by name) starts beating up one of his girls. He tosses the guy through a windshield. Nice opening.

Soon after, Seagal's partner, Bobby Lupo (heh), is gunned down in front of his wife and child in broad daylight by a small-time thug called Richie Madano (William Forsythe). The movie follows Seagal's attempt to find Richie before he can do much more damage. And uh, yeah, that's pretty much it. Richie is a pretty interesting bad guy, because he isn't some big-time mafia crime boss, he's just a psychopathic hoodlum. In fact, the mafia are also trying to track down Richie because he is making them look bad. After gunning Bobby down in broad daylight, Richie knows he's dead anyway, so he has decided to have one last night on the town. This involves a lot of "partying" (ie sleeping with hookers) and gunning down angry female motorists, wheelchair-bound henchmen and anyone else who looks at him funny. This was long before the videogame Grand Theft Auto, so he doesn't have a safe outlet for those kind of impulses. His henchmen are pretty worried about his behaviour, but they stick around because they've been promised a room full of cash and drugs if they last the night.

Unfortunately for Richie, despite his murderous tendencies he's not much of a fighter. When he finally has his showdown with Seagal, it's so one-sided that you almost feel sorry for him. Richie keeps grabbing whatever weapons are at hand and every time Seagal just plucks it from his hands and turns it against him. He does everything short of that Three Stooges routine where you hold his head at arm's length and he just pinwheels his arms. Seagal finally dispatches Richie with a corkscrew, embedding it in his head right down to the hilt. That's a pretty difficult feat, he didn't twist it or anything. It would have been better if he'd then used it to pluck out a cork-shaped chunk of his head, or even his eyeball, but you can't have everything.

Seagal's films have a tendency towards unnecessary dubbing, where a (usually offscreen) extra will spell out something for the dumbshits in the audience (most of them). Often this will be a bystander making awestruck comments about Seagal's skills during a fight, but in this film it's used for bad guys to explain their injuries. One guy shouts out "You knocked my teeth out!" after spitting a mouthful of teeth onto a pool table. Another guy shouts "My balls!" after receiving a mighty crotch-kick. Another guy gets his leg severed by a shotgun blast (!) and proceeds to shout "My leg! You took my leg!" for a good minute straight (he didn't take it anywhere, man, it's right there on the ground). This makes Out for Justice the perfect action film to share with your vision-impaired friends.

In fact, the vision-impaired will have the added bonus of not having to view Seagal's ridiculous ensembles. At the beginning of the film he opts for a sleeveless vest/beret combo (all black, naturally). Later on he goes for a billowy black shirt with a plunging neck and accessorises with gold chains. His ponytail is looking particularly long and lustrous, while the ladies sport a variety of enormous early 90s hair-don'ts. It's cheap to insult the fashion of 80s/90s movies, but I can't imagine Seagal's outfits looking good in any era.

Seagal's movies usually feature a bar fight of some kind, and this one is a doozy. He walks straight in to Richie's brother's bar and starts intimidating everyone in the room, goading people into attacking him and then taking them out in a single punch. When he has had enough he straight-up wrecks the joint. He uses a few different weapons, including a pool ball wrapped up in a piece of cloth. He takes on a guy named Sticks who is pretty good with a couple of pool cues (you see what they did there?). He's the only Asian dude in the whole bar, so when you see him at the beginning of the scene you know he's going to do something awesome. Seagal takes him out no problem, though.

Seagal does come off as a little unhinged in this scene, though. I mean, just imagine you're one of these guys in the bar. You don't know Richie Madano, you're just here you're in here enjoying a beer after putting in ten hours at the smelting plant. Suddenly this cop just walks in and starts flashing his badge around and smashing up the joint. He even knocks your beer across the room and throws your friend in a phone booth (twice). What an asshole! I don't know if this was supposed to illustrate how our thirst for revenge robs us of our humanity, but if they followed up on that bit I must have dozed off. There's another great fight in a butcher shop where a guy gets his hand pinned to the wall by a meat cleaver and another guy gets knocked out by a sausage. Smallgoods as a deadly weapon, don't see that too often.

One thing about this movie is that it maintains a pretty grim tone throughout. There's no cheesy one-liners. The only comic relief is a sub-plot where Seagal rescues a puppy in a sack that some asshole throws out of his car window. The animal abuse isn't the comedy part, that comes later. Seagal makes a comment about hoping to run into this guy again, and sure enough he runs into him at the end of the film and gives him a kick in the balls. The puppy takes a leak on his face, everyone laughs (except me), roll credits. This scene seems pretty out of place, and is probably the result of studio meddling. Apart from this, though, this is a top notch Seagal film and a pretty solid action film overall. I think all the action directors today, with their choppy-editing and close-ups, could learn a thing or two from films like this.

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