Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Out for Justice (1991)

Minor mafia player Richie Madano (William Forsythe) – the kind of guy even too unsubtle to have any chance of ever becoming a made man – goes on a crack-fuelled rampage of murder and rape through the still gritty streets of New York. Since his first victim is a cop he grew up with – classily shot in broad daylight in front of his wife and children - and the partner of Detective Gino Felino (Steven Seagal), things become personal. Which is to say, Gino – after popping in and making nice with the local mafia boss who will still send his own independent hit team for Richie – goes on a revenge-fuelled rampage of murder and Seagallian attempts at acting. When he’s not murdering or crippling people, Gino also finds the time to investigate the inciting incident of Richie’s spree.

By 1991, the great John Flynn, one of the underrated great directors of the 70s – if you haven’t, do yourself a favour and watch Rolling Thunder, The Outfit and Defiance before you go anywhere near his later films – had been reduced to directing Steven Seagal vehicles. This was the period when US action movies were still a thing happening in the cinemas, though, and Seagal was at least a minor star of the genre, so it’s not quite as terrible as it may sound on paper. Or rather, it wouldn’t be if this didn’t mean Flynn has to work with a lead who – sorry, Seagal fans – just can’t act at all, even for an action star, and who projects a personality that to me feels smug and unpleasant to a degree I’d rather enjoy watching in a villain but can’t really abide too well in a hero. Characterisation-wise, Gino is typically schizophrenic: on the one hand, he’s protecting prostitutes from getting beaten up by pimps even when it costs him a big drug bust, and saves puppies from puppy death (seriously); on the other hand, these attempts to humanize him stop completely whenever he gets into a fight, where he generally crushes all before him with way too much violence for the occasion – and because he’s such a bad winner and his enemies are never allowed to see eye to eye with him on the level of their fighting skills, he comes off as a bully much more than the hero and protector of the little people the film wants to see him.

Even if we try to ignore these usual Seagal problems, Out for Justice also suffers from a mass of clunky and often plain stupid dialogue, mostly spoken in various cringeworthy would-be Italian American New Yorker accents by long-suffering character actors.

Yet still, the whole affair, plagued with my least favourite US action hero, action scenes that often make things much too easy for said hero, and the babbling of idiots, is still highly watchable, proving Flynn to be an old pro who may not be able to make actual gold out of the crap he’s given but certainly gilding it pretty nicely. For while none of the action ever feels dangerous (indestructible heroes will do that), Flynn does shoot it in an incredibly lurid style, pumping up the grittiness and violence you’d expect from a film taking place in the New York of this era to a nearly phantasmagorical degree. Out for Justice doesn’t just feel like an action movie with a nasty streak but always seems to teeter on the edge of actual sadism (which of course does fit Gino’s bullying ways rather nicely). And while the dramatic scenes are sabotaged by dialogue quality, script, and Seagal, Flynn stages them with the highest melodramatic intensity, as if this shit were the pulp version of Shakespeare.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

From IMDB: "The movie was originally over 30 minutes longer, which included some more plot details and character development. Steven Seagal cut some of William Forsythe's scenes because he felt that Forsythe was upstaging him. Also, editor Michael Eliot re-edited the original cut of the movie. He did the same job with some other Warner Bros movies. Some scenes were deleted and some others were cut down for pacing. This is why there are two montage scenes with no dialogue in the finished film. Re-editing also caused some minor continuity mistakes."