Action Heroes – Seagal: Out For Justice

Of all the tosh that Seagal has churned out (and I say this from a fan’s perspective) Out For Justice (1991) is possibly the most underrated and brutal of his films. It was one of the first Seagal films I was allowed to watch (at a tender age of…I’m not saying) and contains more one-liners per minute then any Seagal feature, firmly cementing its place as my number one Seagal film. Yes, that’s right I have a top ten, to the disgust of many.

The film also contains one of the best openings to any Seagal feature as he blows his undercover surveillance to ritualistically (and possibly quite spiritually?) beat up a local pimp who’s abusing one of his staff. Mr Flappy Hands himself deals out the pain and then throws said pimp into a car windscreen. Cue freeze frame as Seagal walks past the broken windscreen. See, it’s as I said, the best opening to any film he’s ever made.

But what is it actually about? Well, a narcotics officer named Gino (a ponytailed Brooklyn/Italian accented Seagal) finds out his partner and friend Bobby Lupo was gunned down in broad daylight by a local thug (and Gino’s old high-school buddy), Richie. As one can imagine Gino is not best pleased, so he makes a promise to Bobby’s widow and his police captain (played by the legendary Jerry Orbach, who worked with Van Damme in the following year’s Universal Soldier) that by the end of the night Richie will be either arrested or dead.

With a simple premise laid down in a really short time the action truly kicks off almost instantly. And what a fine example of Seagal’s aikido skills it is. The first full-on fight sequence (between Gino and several of Richie’s thugs in a deli) is a feast for any wrist-breaking enthusiast. It’s one of the few sequences which still makes me wince during each and every viewing, particularly as Gino makes light work of the goons.

We get Richie’s classic bad guy line of “Hang him up by a hook”, which fails to happen as Gino first dodges a meat cleaver (shoving it into the guy’s leg in glorious close-up), then takes said meat cleaver out of the screaming goon’s leg and shoves it into another guy’s hand (pinning him to a shelf in the process). If that wasn’t enough brutality, he then beats another guy up with his own weapon (in this case a baseball bat), which allows him to break the last goon’s arm and smack him in the face with a large piece of hanging meat. Now if that isn’t classed as pure cinematic action gold I don’t know what is.

But that’s probably the least impressive action sequence when compared to Gino’s questioning at the bar for local gangsters. After beating up the bartender (who happens to be an ex-boxer), he then uses the old ‘billiard-ball in a white towel’ trick to break several noses and knock out a couple of rows of teeth. Lest I forget, there’s also a fantastically quick pool-cue fight (genuinely showing Seagal’s speed and flair with a weapon) which is still the best choreographing in any of his fight scenes.

There is a brutality present in Out For Justice which has since been lacking in many a Seagal feature. He really does go to town on each and every gangster, goon and drug-taking loon he can get his hands on, because with Gino his hands are registered lethal weapons. When the final confrontation does take place it quickly becomes a bone-crunching affair as Gino unleashes the pain on Richie, beating him to a bloody pulp. After the amount of chaos Richie has inevitably caused throughout the film, there almost comes a moment of audience sadism as you will Gino on to brutally punish him. As the fight reaches its crescendo of violence there’s just enough time for Gino to churn out one last quip (“That’s for Bobby”) as he slams a corkscrew into Richie’s head. Possibly the best finishing move to any fight from Seagal’s compendium of pain and broken bones.

It also contains some of the most unintentionally hilarious pieces of dialogue ever committed to film. But they’re also some of the best in terms of Seagal’s more recent repertoire, and boy do we get some moments of action movie gold, such as “Yo! Fucknuts”, which is quite possibly the best amalgamation of words to form a cuss that’s ever been uttered by an action star.

At 87 minutes this is the tightest and most well rounded of Seagal’s theatrical releases as it contains brilliant fight sequences, laugh out-loud dialogue and an epilogue which has a puppy (who was thrown out of a speeding car in a plastic bag earlier in the film, much to Gino’s disgust) getting his revenge on the dog-hating driver by peeing on him after Gino knocks the perpetrator out.

How’s that for an ending to an action flick?

Dominic O’Brien

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