Above The Law (1988)

Above The Law (1988)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Andrew Davis

Starring: Steven Seagal, Sharon Stone, Henry Silva, and Pam Grier

Nico Toscani (Seagal) is a Martial Arts expert who travels to Japan from his native Chicago to further hone his skills. While there, he’s recruited by the CIA and sent to Vietnam to work Special Ops. While in ‘Nam, he crosses paths with a sadistic torturer named Kurt Zagon (Silva). Nico becomes disillusioned with CIA life and returns to Chicago and becomes a cop.  

Back on his home turf, he has some very important women in his life – his wife Sara (Stone), his partner Delores “Jacks” Jackson (Grier), and also his mother and young daughter. Nico and Jacks get embroiled in a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top when a simple drug investigation becomes a high-level FBI and CIA cover-up…and that necessitates the sinister return of Zagon. When Nico is forced to turn in his badge and gun in order to get to the truth, he’s forced to go ABOVE THE LAW.

Above the Law is the one and only 80’s Seagal, so we might as well bask in the glory of that moment. The sax on the soundtrack, classic computers, giant cars, and general lack of political correctness all help to add 80’s flair to this fine cop drama. Seagal made an impressive debut as Nico – he had serious fighting moves, he was in great shape, and he even was an actor back then. 

Having co-written the story and co-produced the film with director Andrew Davis, with whom he’d later re-team for Under Siege (1992), the whole outing is serious-minded, professional, and delivers the Martial Arts/action goods. It was the 80’s, after all, and things were just better. This includes Seagal movies.

Another Andrew Davis regular also appeared here and is worth noting – Joseph Kosala as Lt. Fred Strozah. He was a Chicago cop in real life, and you can absolutely tell. His authenticity stands out, as does his thick Chicago accent (you think at any moment George Wendt is going to show up and they’re going to have an in-depth discussion about “Da Bears”). He worked as a technical advisor as well, and we wanted to shine a spotlight on him. Sadly, he passed away in 2015, but his work on screen preserves his legacy. 

In other cast news, we have fan favorite Pam Grier as Nico’s parter, which was an inspired casting choice. Thalmus Rasulala – Blacula himself - plays a small role as well, bringing back memories of 70’s Blaxploitation actioners such as Truck Turner (1974). Sharon Stone’s role is small, and fan favorite Michael Rooker has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role as “Man in Bar”, but it all adds to the fun.

Of course, the great Henry Silva is the main baddie, just as he was in previous Davis film Code of Silence (1985) – both Above the Law and Code of Silence have other things in common as well, plotwise – though it must be said his final exit in the film The Hard Way (1989) might be impossible to top. In all, Above the Law takes us back to a time when Seagal had a bright future ahead of him, action movies were beloved by all and went to the movie theater, cop dramas were tough, and movies weren’t wussy and/or tinted blue or green like they are today. You’ll surely be entertained by this classic of Seagal Cinema.  

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Back To Back (1996)

Back To Back (1996)- * * *

Directed by: Roger Nygard

Starring: Michael Rooker, Ryo Ishibashi, Ko Takasugi, Danielle Harris, Fred Willard, Stephen Furst, Vincent Schiavelli, Jake Johannsen, and Bobcat Goldthwait 

Bob Malone (Rooker) is an L.A. ex-cop who is having a very bad day. First his daughter mouths off to him, then some guy blocks in his car, and after that he gets into a battle with his local ATM. His Loan Officer (that’s his name, evidently) (Willard) won’t even give him any more time. To make matters worse, two Japanese gangsters named Koji and Hideo (Ishibashi and Takasugi, respectively) show up in town brandishing a mysterious suitcase. It seems they’re in the midst of a gang war with the Italian mafia, and thanks to the inadvertent intervention of a psychotic man named…well, Psycho (Goldthwait), the unlikely pair of Bob and Koji end up teaming up in the name of some sort of justice. But will Bob repair his relationship with his sassy daughter? And is there corruption that goes all the way to the top? The only way to find out is for Bob and Koji to get BACK TO BACK results!

Possibly one of the earliest of what we call “Tarantino Slogs”, that’s somewhat of a misnomer here as Back to Back may be quite Tarantino-esque with the constant jawing of its characters in a crime comedy/drama scenario, but there’s nothing sloggy about it. One of the best aspects of the movie is its brisk and peppy pace, and the whole thing is quite freewheeling. And because it was the 90’s, back when movies were well-lit, you can actually see what’s going on. 

On the one hand, you have violent action scenes with plenty of gun-shooting and such. On the other hand, you have comedians such as Bobcat Goldthwait, Fred Willard, and Jake Johannsen making appearances, and the mix of the two is uneasy, let’s say. The two worlds collide in scenes where Bobcat is shooting cops with a machine gun. You won’t see that anywhere else, that’s for sure. Whether that’s a good thing or not is ultimately up to you. 

Interestingly, this was touted as a sequel or semi-sequel to American Yakuza (1993), and indeed it is known as American Yakuza 2 in many territories around the world. Apparently calling it that didn’t have much cache in the U.S., where it garnered the rather lackluster title it has here. As far as we can tell, the only cast or crew member that made it over from American Yakuza 1 was actor Ryo Ishibashi, though he plays a different character in this one. His star power overseas must be big, as that’s a pretty tenuous thread to tie the two movies together. He has been in some things that have gotten some play over here, such as Miike’s Audition (1999) and Beat Takeshi’s Brother (2000), but he’s just one of many cast members on show here, competing for screen time with the likes of Fred Willard, Vincent Schiavelli, Tim Thomerson, Stephen Furst, and others.

Fan favorite Michael Rooker gets not only a rare starring role, but an equally rare chance to show off his comedic chops. He also does action scenes well, so a lot was demanded of him here. His daughter, played by Danielle Harris, is almost the same character she played in the great The Last Boy Scout (1991). While that also was an action movie with humor, it had the power of Shane Black behind it. Back to Back, while entertaining, doesn’t have the depth, power, or quality writing of Boy Scout. But certainly fans of it would probably enjoy Back to Back as well, as they are cut from the same cloth.

So, if you like spotting B-movie stars as they come and go in small roles, and you like your action with a heapin’ helping of laffs, by all means check out Back to Back. If you keep your expectations low – and don’t mind the whole Tarantino-esque thing - you will find some enjoyment here.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Point Of No Return (1993)

Point Of No Return (1993)- * * *

Directed by: John Badham

Starring: Bridget Fonda, Gabriel Byrne, Dermot Mulroney, Harvey Keitel, and Anne Bancroft

When a wild, untamed woman named Maggie (Fonda) gets on the wrong side of the law due to her criminal activities and is going to be executed, a mysterious man known only as “Bob” (Byrne) steps in and stays the execution. He takes her to a secret training camp to be schooled in the ways of assassination. She learns everything from marksmanship to how to use a computer mouse. After being sent on various missions after graduating from the school, she meets J.P. (Mulroney), her building’s manager, and the two strike up a romantic relationship. However, her secret life as a killer still beckons, and she has to choose what type of life she wants to lead. Does Maggie have the ability to pick another path in life, or has she reached the POINT OF NO RETURN?

Point of No Return, as we all know, is a remake of Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita (1990), which had only come out three years earlier. PONR is slick, Hollywood action all the way, and the 109-minute running time does signal that this is a mainstream release that went to movie theaters. The sort of Hollywoodized action on show here is what director John Badham has come to be known for, and this is a good example of that style, if that’s what you’re looking for. Besides the technical aspects, which are of a high standard, probably the best thing about PONR is the cast.

Bridget Fonda shows she can be an action lead, and has versatility in a role that demands her to do a variety of different things. She’s basically the Eliza Doolittle in a situation where Pygmalion/My Fair Lady meets shooting and blow-ups. During her “assassin training” her room is decorated with Pantera and Red Hot Chili Peppers posters and she watches at least one Headbangers Ball-style music video. When she goes food shopping it’s reminiscent of the classic game show Supermarket Sweep, and she gets to show off a bit of humor as well. 

Gabriel Byrne as her handler and Dermot Mulroney as the love interest are there to support her, though it’s easy to confuse the latter with Dylan McDermott. Or perhaps Costas or Louis Mandylor. Miguel Ferrer and Anne Bancroft provide further support, though it would’ve been nice to see Bancroft shooting people. Sadly, she doesn’t do any action scenes. She just teaches Maggie to act “like a lady”. What a missed opportunity. Harvey Keitel doesn’t show up until 88 minutes into the movie – a point when a lot of other movies would’ve been over already – and is gone by 98 minutes in. That’s right, just ten minutes, and he’s not even in every scene in those minutes.

It’s nice to see people skating around Venice Beach on day-glo rollerblades, and using classic Apple computers. However, the film takes its sweet time and there are long gaps in between action scenes. 

By the time we get to the love story between J.P. and Maggie we were starting to see why the movie was 109 minutes. To keep up the energy, there should have been at least a few more brief action scenes. Maybe Anne Bancroft could have been involved in them. Also, the great song of the same name by Nu Shooz should have been in the movie somewhere, perhaps during a training montage. Another missed opportunity.

In the end, Point of No Return is mainstream action fare – it certainly could have used some more streamlining, and some additional edge would have been nice, but it’s ideal for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty