Above the Law (1988 film)

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Above the Law
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAndrew Davis
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by
  • Steven Seagal
  • Andrew Davis
Music byDavid Michael Frank
CinematographyRobert Steadman
Edited byMichael Brown
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • April 8, 1988 (1988-04-08)
Running time
99 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
  • English
  • Spanish
Box office$18,869,631

Above the Law, also known as Nico: Above the Law,[3][4] is a 1988 American action film written, produced and directed by Andrew Davis. It marks the acting debut of Steven Seagal, who co-produced and co-wrote the film also starring Pam Grier, Sharon Stone, Daniel Faraldo and Henry Silva. Seagal plays Nico Toscani, an ex-CIA agent, Aikido specialist and a Chicago policeman who discovers a conspiracy upon investigating the mysterious shipment of military explosives seized from a narcotics dealer.

The film originated after a successful screen test, financed by Michael Ovitz, leading to Seagal being offered a contract by Warner Bros. The film was set and filmed on location in Chicago.[5] It was released in the United States on April 8, 1988.


Sergeant Nico Toscani, a native of Palermo, Sicily, is a detective in the Chicago Police Department's vice squad. At an early age he had become interested in martial arts, and moved to Japan to study them. In 1969, Toscani was recruited to join the CIA by Nelson Fox and was involved in covert operations on the Vietnamese-Cambodian border during the Vietnam War. There, he became disgusted with station chief Kurt Zagon, who tortured prisoners. A stand-off occurred when Toscani tried to stop a torture session, and he left the CIA. Toscani returned to Chicago, joined the police department, and got married.

Toscani and his new partner Detective Delores "Jacks" Jackson are investigating a drug ring, and after busting two of the dealers, including Salvadorian drug dealer Tony Salvano, Toscani finds C-4 explosive. Shortly afterward, the men that Toscani and Jackson arrested are released at the request of federal officials, and Toscani is ordered to stand down. Later, the priest of Toscani's parish is killed in an explosion during Mass. Fox calls Toscani and tells him to move his family to a safer location, saying that he is in danger. Under pressure from the feds, Toscani is asked to turn in his badge. He eventually discovers that the dealers he busted are linked to Zagon, who is still with the CIA, and who is being accused of human rights violations by a Central American priest who was being sheltered by Toscani's priest. While Zagon is torturing the priest, Toscani bursts in and a gun battle ensues. Detectives Lukich and Jackson are wounded during the shootout, and Toscani has to flee.

Senator Ernest Harrison is investigating Zagon's group to reveal their covert operations and drug dealing. When Toscani finds out that Zagon killed the priest and is planning to kill Harrison, he goes after Zagon. Toscani confronts Fox, but they are interrupted by Zagon's men. Fox is killed and Toscani is captured. He is held in the kitchen of a hotel during a Harrison campaign rally. Before Zagon can kill Harrison, Toscani breaks free and kills Zagon and all of his remaining men. After, Toscani meets Harrison, who has been informed of everything. Harrison promises justice and Toscani says he is now willing to testify about his experiences with Zagon and covert operations in the CIA.



It has been reported that Seagal was asked to make the film by his former aikido pupil, agent Michael Ovitz, who believed that he could make anyone a movie star. It was set and filmed in Chicago, Illinois, over 60 days between April 27 and June 26, 1987.[6]


Critical response[edit]

Above the Law received mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 50%, based on reviews from 16 critics.[7] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[8]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated "It contains 50 percent more plot than it needs, but that allows it room to grow in areas not ordinarily covered in action thrillers."[9] In a negative review, Hal Hinson of the Washington Post criticized it as "woefully short on originality."[10][11]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $18,869,631 in the U.S.[12]


Above the Law is regarded as the first American film to feature Aikido in fight sequences.[13]

Home media[edit]

Warner Bros. released the Region 1 DVD in the United States on 28 January 1998.[14] The Region 2 DVD was released in the United Kingdom on 26 April 1999.[15] The Region-free Blu-ray Disc was released on 7 April 2009.[16]


  1. ^ "NICO". British Board of Film Classification.
  2. ^ Goldstein, Patrick (1988-02-14). "Steven Seagal Gets a Shot at Stardom". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-25.
  3. ^ "Nico - Above the Law (1988)". MovieZine.
  4. ^ "Above the Law (Nico) (1988)". FilmAffinity.
  5. ^ Canby, Vincent (April 8, 1988). "'Above the Law,' a Detective's Battle". The New York Times. Retrieved September 10, 2010.
  6. ^ "Perfect People". perfectpeople.net.
  7. ^ "Above the Law". Rotten Tomatoes/Flixster. Retrieved 2013-11-03.
  8. ^ "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com.
  9. ^ Roger Ebert. "Above the Law". Rogerebert.com. Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  10. ^ "Above the Law". Washington Post. 1988-04-09. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  11. ^ Canby, Vincent (1988-04-08). "Review/Film; 'Above the Law,' a Detective's Battle". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-12-14.
  12. ^ "ABOVE THE LAW". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 19 December 2009. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
  13. ^ Bill Palmer; Karen Palmer; Ric Meyers. The Encyclopedia of Martial Arts Movies. Scarecrow Press, 1995. p. 2. ISBN 1461672759.
  14. ^ "Above the Law DVD Release Date January 28, 1998". Blu-ray.com.
  15. ^ "Nico: Above the Law DVD Release Date April 26, 1999". Blu-ray.com.
  16. ^ "Above the Law Blu-ray release date April 7, 2009". Blu-ray.com.

External links[edit]