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Film / Above the Law (1988)

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"You guys think you're above the law. Well, you ain't above mine."
Nico Toscani

This 1988 action thriller, directed by Andrew Davis, is best known nowadays as Steven Seagal's first movie.

Nico Toscani (Seagal) is a Chicagoan of Sicilian descent who, at a young age, developed a fascination with martial arts and trained in it in Japan for several years before being recruited into the CIA and serving a tour in Vietnam. There, he made an undying enemy in the form of Kurt Zagon (Henry Silva), an interrogator who used the Vietnam war as an opportunity to make money in the drug trade, and after a scrupple between them, Nico left the CIA and returned to Chicago, wherein he got married and became a cop. Now, Nico and his partner Delores "Jax" Jackson (Pam Grier) have got information about an upcoming drug deal involving Salvadorian drug dealer Salvano. Upon and after busting it, however, several peculiar things happen. First, the deal, instead of drugs, turns out to involve plastic explosives. Then, Salvano and all others that were arrested are mysteriously pardoned by the government and let free. Then, a bomb is detonated at Nico's church, with the apparent goal of assassinating a priest. Then, Nico's status as a cop is removed and he is told not to stick his nose into things. What's going on? Could it all, by chance, be a part of Zagon's schemes to fund an invasion of Nicaragua and assassinate a senator who's trying to stop him?

Not to be confused with the rap group or the 2017 Belgian-French film of the same name.

This film provides examples of:

  • Badass Boast: There's the "I'll get an 'A' for effort" line to intimidate some goons from attacking him, and then there's the speech that provides the Title Drop:
    Nico: They (Zagon and other evil CIA agents) think they are above the law. Well, they ain't above mine.
  • Badass in Distress: Nico gets into a brief one of these when Zagon and three mooks finally got the drop on him, where they tied the sensei to a chair and starts injecting drugs into him. Unfortunately for the bad guys, it doesn't last.
  • Big Bad: Kurt Zagon is a CIA agent and opium dealer who wants to invade Nicaragua to expand his profits.
  • Bloodless Carnage: For an R-rated film, it's surprising to mostly see action sequences without blood. This is averted with the fights and also the scene with the bomb at the church, with the visible blood stains of the dead victims.
  • Bond One-Liner: After offing several dozen mooks:
    Mook: I don't think you can drop us all, bad ass.
    BLAM! Mook falls from a bullet to the chest.
    Nico: You're right. But I'll get an 'A' for effort.
  • Book Ends: The film opens and ends with Nico narrating his life.
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good: The FBI is painted as stick-in-the-mud ineffectual idiots (at least in comparison to Cowboy Cop Nico Toscani) but they are still the good guys, while the plot goes way out of its way to portray the CIA as a Sinister Spy Agency supreme (smuggling drugs from Central America and the Golden Triangle to fund operations and orchestrating the bombing of a church full of people in downtown Chicago to silence a witness are just two of the atrocities that are either shown or mentioned about them).
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The bar scene, full stop.
    Mook: Holy fuck, man... Stop this motherfucker, he's crazy!
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Zagon's specialty. Injecting people full of drugs comes off as almost an obsession.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Nico doesn't really play by the rules when it comes to fighting, but who's left writhing on the ground in pain and who isn't?
  • Cowboy Cop: Nico Toscani, all over. The man is ordered to stay off the case and he has an understandable reason to be pissed when the FBI looks like it's going to half-ass an investigation of a bombing that his family was mere inches away from.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Probably would be easier to count the characters that don't belt out a sarcastic line at least once during the run time. Nico gets the lion's share, being belligerent to everybody who pisses him off.
  • Determinator: Nico is suspended, attacked, and his family is threatened. You only think that will stop him because this is the first Seagal film. And even then you don't think that will stop him.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The CIA smuggling drugs to fund operations in Latin America.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Seagal doesn't sport his familiar ponytail in his film debut. He also notably gets the hell kicked out of him hard at the climax, which makes his Heroic Second Wind more realistic, in contrast to his latter-day films in which he's an utterly untouchable Invincible Hero.
  • It's Personal: Nico already was angry about being ordered to get off the case that begins the film by the FBI, but the moment he decides all members of the conspiracy need to face justice or die screaming is when Zagon's men set off a bomb in a church, murdering the priest who was a very near friend of Nico and the rest of Nico's family barely escaping becoming collateral damage.
  • Lawful Stupid: The FBI order Nico to stop following a drug dealer caught with plastic explosives. He doesn't and discovers the dealer in his local church shortly before the church explodes, while mass is in service no less, killing or wounded dozens of people including the priest and a senators aide. What do you do? Well, if you are the FBI, you suspend him for not following orders and being a Cowboy Cop, which wouldn't be quite so bad if you chose not to ignore his eyewitness testimony about who the bomber is as well.
  • Market-Based Title: Outside of the U.S. the film was titled Nico, apparently due to aspirations to make it the first of an ongoing series. In the end, though, no sequel was ever produced.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Regular drug raid against the Chicago Mafia reveals the Mafia is smuggling C-4 plastic explosives into the city -> bomb made utilizing said C-4 goes off in a Catholic church mid-Mass, killing the officing priest and wounding many people -> CIA plan to kill a witness to the many drug-related atrocities they do in Central America to fund their operations.
  • Product Placement: One of Nico's government agent contacts has a cover as a sales representative for NEC computers and happens to be in town in an exhibition. As a result, the whole scene has the company logo spread all over a wall on the background and the computer she uses to request information on Zagon gets several close-ups.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: What do you reckon Zagon, as a top gerry in the secret service, considers himself?
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: In a sense, Nico is no different from his enemies- illegal wiretapping, disobeying orders, beating up lowlifes, taking Federal Agents hostage, and shooting unarmed men in the street (though to be fair, the last guy had it coming). Of course, unlike the villains, he isn't doing this for money, and what they do is far, far worse.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": It's a Seagal film, so of course this is here. In fact it's the first Seagal film, so you get to hear the originals. Zagon gets two satisfying ones- the arm, then the neck. The arm especially.
  • Sinister Spy Agency: The CIA smuggles drugs to fund their operations, assassinates any witnesses to their operations by any means necessary, has Psycho for Hire Zagon in their payroll, and are mentioned to have tortured and murdered people (including children) in Central America to make sure the aforementioned drug smuggling was done undisturbed. Toscani goes as far as to say that the amount of people the CIA has murdered for the sake of alleged national security world-wide has probably extinguished entire cultures.
  • Smug Snake: Zagon. Loving descriptions of what the drugs he uses for torture are supposed to be doing to his victims happens twice in the film.
  • Title Drop: As demonstrated by the page quote, also happens a couple of other times. (Indeed, they're the last words heard in the movie.)
  • Torture Technician: Zagon again. Although he mentions to Nico that torturing him will be the first ever time that he will do it just for fun.