The Steven Seagal Super Cinematic Spectacular: Out For Justice
Out For Justice is probably the least of Steven Seagal’s early movies. If you stop and think about that, it really is quite the accomplishment. Seagal started fine with Above The Law and was doing fine with both Hard To Kill and Marked For Death. Those three movies form almost a perfect triangle of late 1980s action films by a rising action star. They aren’t really “great” movies but they are “good” movies given you know what you want from your low-grade action films from the time period. I mean there isn’t going to be some sudden rebirth of interest in Seagal’s early work or anything, these movies are pretty much on TV, be edited for TV broadcast or cable. The problem is after those 3 movies you get Out For Justice, which is almost the forgotten early Seagal movie. It is the movie which when you bring up Seagal movies in conversation, everyone forgets.1
Surely there has to be more of a reason than it is a bad movie. Right?
In actuality, no. It is the primary reason Out For Justice gets overlooked. It isn’t just bad, it has the distinction of being “That Bad”. Being “That Bad” is a rare feat in cinema, especially for a major release. A movie that is “That Bad” isn’t even watchable as camp. It just isn’t any damn good. I mean in all my years of watching movies only 2 other major studio releases have attained the “That Bad” status with me and both of them had Bill Cosby as a selling point2. The even more horrifying thign about Out For Justice is that it actually has a serviceable story and is chock-full of som pretty well known character actors, not the least of whom is Jerry Orbach, who obviously made this somehwere in-between taking Jennifer Grey to get an abortion in Dirty Dancing and spending 10 years delivering the zinger on Law & Order. Hell, William Forsythe is I nthis bad boy, doing what William Forsythe does best, playing an asshole you hoped gets killed off by the end of the film.
So what exactly brings this movie so far down that it has no redeeming entertainment vale? Who or what is responsible for this movie being this awful?
The answer, is… its star. This might be the worst bit of “acting” Steven Seagal has ever done. I mean like EVER!
It is one thing when Seagal plays a squint-eyed badass in Under Siege or Cop/Buddhist Monk in The Glimmer Man but when he decides to adopt a completely awful pseudo-New York Italian accent complete with Brooklyn wise-guy machismo, well then things are about as bad as you think they would be. Actually, they are much, much worse. This is compounded by Seagal speaking Italian on and off in a few scenes where he is chatting with actors playing Mafia Bosses and… man it is hard to believe that it can be any worse than it already is. Seagal’s performance feels like he hired an acting coach and the coach said “Hey, you really need to Guinea this guy up!”.
If this movie had starred anyone else, we might have gotten a half-decent police corruption movie, but instead Seagal plays Super-Guinea3 and pretty makes the movie a chore to watch. I mean it even ruins some of the better actions sequences of the movie. This might be the most violent movie Seagal had made up to this point. Hell the movie opens with him almost screwing-up an undercover operation so he can go beat-up a pimp. Yeah, Seagal is playing a cop again in this movie. This time he is playing Gino Farano, a somewhat loose cannon police detective from Brooklyn.
The basic set-up for the movie is that local hood Richie Madano, played by the always entertaining William Forsythe, guns down Gino’s partner Bobby Lupo on the street in broad daylight. Gino, Richie and Bobby all grew-up together in “The Neighborhood” but unlike Gino and Bobby, Richie opted to become a robber instead of a cop. The thing is, Richie is trying to make a name for himself in the Mafia but is totally going about it all wrong4. Hell the local “Mob Boss” pretty much wants Richie dead for being an all around douchebag, but he isn’t exactly going to help Gino find Richie either. Even the cops realize that trying to stop Gino from killing Richie is pointless, better to give him an unmarked car and a shotgun than, you know, put him in jail for his own good. Fuck one cop all but tells Gino to kill Richie “for us”. Hey, I get that any police force is a brotherhood and when one guy goes down all the cops want the killer caught but this shit is downright bloodthirsty. No wonder people living in NYC were terrified of the NYPD for so long5.
The thing is, as Gino hunts for Richie, he uncovers that his dead partner wasn’t nearly the family man and all around good cop everyone thought he was. Turns out Bobby was carrying on with Richie’s girlfriend and another woman. It gets worse as Gino learns Bobby was a dirty cop and that Richie killed Bobby after Bobby’s wife Laurie found out about Bobby’s “indiscretions” and passed the information to Richie. So basically, everyone in this movie is emotionally fucked-up on some level. You got the dead cop who wanted to be a gangster, you have a crazed gangster who is defying both the police and the mob and you’ve got a jilted wife who really hasn’t considered the consequences of her actions. This movie is the template for every episode of The Jerry Springer Show that you have ever watched, the difference being that instead of trailer park cousins having affairs with one another, it is some pretty messed Italians from Brooklyn.
Now this movie is not Infernal Affairs. Shit this movie isn’t even Police Academy6. The rest of the movie plays out exactly how you expect an action movie with Steven Seagal to play out. Gino tracks down Richie, kills all of Richie’s goons and then beats the living fuck out of him before killing him. A nice twist is that after the deed is done the Mafia shows up and Gino lets them take the credit for the kill, you know, for appearances sake. But that my friends, is not the punchline to the movie. No, see early in the movie Gino watches a guy throw a black plastic trashbag onto the street from a moving car. Gino stops to investigate and discovers a dog inside of the bag. Gino rescues the dog, while swearing that he’ll find the guy that did this terrible crime. He does this while he is on his intense manhunt for Richie. So after finding and killing Richie, Gino and his family are out in the park taking the pooch for a walk and, of course, the guy that threw the dog out of the car shows up. Gino beats the fuck out of the guy and that is that. The movie is over… well not quite, the dog gets his revenge by pissing on the guy’s face.
Out For Justice is a movie I cannot recommend to anyone. It is a dreadful little revenge flick and the story just seems like it takes elements from other cop films and mashes them together. I mean, how could Gino not know his partner/best friend was dirty? Especially since it seems everyone else knew about it. How could the Mafia let a loose cannon like Richie operate that way? Hell, Gino’s relationship with the Mafia is downright chummy as a cop basically declares a truce with the mob to hunt down one crack smoking ass-hole that killed a cop. Gino pretty much absolves Bobby of any guilt in his own death by still going out and killing Richie in cold blood. This movie is just one giant racial slur of a movie against Italian-Americans. For fuck sake, I’m Jewish and I’m offended by the sheer stereotype of how Italians in Brooklyn are portrayed7. Oh sure, it tries to excuse its defamation by an Arthur Miller quote at the opening of the movie about how different parts of Brooklyn had their own culture and vibe depending where in Brooklyn you were but that is just a smokescreen.
Out For Justice was Steven Seagal’s last small movie before Under Siege. It was also a moderate hit, opening number one at the box office its first week of release. It was Seagal’s third straight number one. The film was originally given an NC-17 rating for its graphic violence and had to be recut in order to get an R Rating for a wide release. The movie has a lot of small parts played by actors that would go on to better things down the road, like Gina Gershon, Juliana Margulies and even Dominic Chianese before he was Uncle Junior on The Sopranos. Still, the movie is terrible. Seagal’s earlier films were just as violent but more entertaining. Hell, he was somehow more believable just being himself in Above The Law than when h tried to be a “character” in Out For Justice. But it was the strength of his first four movies hat allowed him to be cast for a real big budget action movie in Under Siege and that movie is one of the last great action movies of the glory days of action movies. So go watch Out For Justice… no wait, scrap that. Unless you rally area glutton for punishment avoid Out For Justice at all costs. Just stick with Seagal’s first three movies to see him evolve as an action star and you should be alright.
1It happens, people do casually talk about Seagal films, I promise you they do!
2The horrors of Leonard Part 6 and Ghost Dad haunt me to this day!
3Please be aware, I’ not using the term “Guinea” denigrate anyone but Steven Seagal. My use of the word is to give you an idea of just how over the top and awful Seagal is in this thing.
4What with the gunning down a cop in broad daylight and then following that up by shooting an innocent woman in cold blood at an intersection because she had asked him to move his car.
5Just ask Abner Louima about how terrifying the NYPD can be!
6If it were, the bar fight in this movie would’ve been at “The Blue Oyster” and made the movie a little bit entertaining.
7Actually I’m more offended that the movie takes place in Brooklyn and not one Jew is seen or referenced at all! If Brooklyn is one thing, it is ethnically diverse.