'Out for Justice': Steven Seagal packs acting into the action

April 15, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Say what you will about Steven Seagal -- that he wears his hair funny, his clothes are weird and that he has a geeky Eurotrash swank to him -- you must also say that he always gives you your money's worth.

His movies, however bad, are always at least movies, in the old sense: set in a real and recognizeable world, peopled with believable secondary characters, enmeshed in social issues and extremely convincing. All that and more is true of "Out for Justice," which has just opened.

Of his four films, I'd rank it better than "Marked for Death" and "Hard to Kill" (spectacular but stupid) and almost on a level with his first, "Above the Law." Here, he's a macho New York detective -- Gino Felino -- who's stirred into a rage of action when an ex-neighborhood chum and petty gangster named Richie Madano (the always excellent William Forsyth) guns down a detective.

Of the several martial-arts or athletic-background action stars currently on view, including Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme and Jeff Speakman, only Seagal can do the two things that add up to a professional performance: He can fight and he can act.

Seagal uses akido, a leverage-based fighting technique for the close-quarters stuff, and his style is fast, brutal and ugly. But he's also convincing with a gun -- "Out for Justice" has more gunfighting than martial arts -- and even when he knocks off guys six and seven at a clip, you can believe it because there's a theory behind it: He aims when he shoots.

But it's his acting that makes the pictures work. He always plays an ethnic with a military background and an attitude problem and an almost palpable sense of physical power. But he also always has a wife and a family and a job -- a real life, in other words -- and even parents. In "Out for Justice," he adds a number of textures to this already complex portrait: nostalgia for the neighborhood, respect for the elderly parents of the killer (a strange, wonderful twist), and a sense of humor.

The movie has been directed by revenge expert John Flynn (he did the Paul Schrader cult favorite, "Rolling Thunder.") "Out for Justice" is an extreme guilty pleasure.

'Out for Justice'

Starring Steven Seagal.

Directed by John Flynn.

Released by Warner Bros.

R rated.

***

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