Above the Law (film)

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Above the Law
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Andrew Davis
Produced by Steven Seagal
Andrew Davis
Screenplay by
Story by Steven Seagal
Andrew Davis
Music by David Michael Frank
Cinematography Robert Steadman
Edited by Michael Brown
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • April 8, 1988 (1988-04-08)
Running time
99 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $7,500,000[1]
Box office $18,869,631

Above the Law (also known as Nico) is a 1988 American action film written, produced and directed by Andrew Davis, and also produced by and starring Steven Seagal in his film debut. The film co-stars Pam Grier, Sharon Stone, Daniel Faraldo and Henry Silva. This came about 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.[2] The film was released in the United States on April 8, 1988.


Sergeant Nico Toscani, a native of Palermo, is a detective in the Chicago Police Department’s vice squad. At an early age he became interested in martial arts, and moved to Japan to study.

In 1969, Nico was recruited into the CIA by Special Agent 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 Nico tried to stop a torture session, and he left the CIA. Nico returned to Chicago, joined the CPD, and got married.

Nico and his new partner Detective Delores "Jacks" Jackson, are now investigating a drug ring, and after busting two of the dealers, including Salvadorian drug dealer Tony Salvano, Nico finds C4 explosives. Shortly afterward, the men that Nico and Jacks arrested are released at the request of Federal officials, and Nico is asked to stand down. Later, the priest of Nico’s parish is killed in an explosion during Mass. Fox calls Nico and tells him to move his family to a safer location, saying that Nico is in danger.

Under pressure from the Feds, Nico is asked to turn in his badge. Nico eventually finds that the dealers he busted are linked to Zagon, who is still with the CIA, and who is accused of human rights violations by a Central American priest who was being sheltered by Nico's priest. While Zagon is torturing the priest, Nico bursts in and a gun battle ensues. Detective Lukich and Jacks are wounded during the shoot-out, and Nico has to flee.

Senator Ernest Harrison is investigating Zagon's group to reveal their covert operations and drug dealing. When Nico finds out that Zagon killed the priest and is planning to kill Harrison, he goes after Zagon. Nico confronts Fox, but they are interrupted by Zagon's men. Fox is killed and Nico is captured.

Nico is held in the kitchen of a hotel during a Harrison campaign rally. Before Zagon can kill Harrison, Nico breaks free and kills Zagon and all of his remaining men. After, Nico meets Sen. Harrison, who has been informed of everything. Harrison promises justice for what they did and Nico says he is now willing to testify on 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.[3]


Critical response[edit]

Above the Law received mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 50%, based on reviews from 16 critics.[4]

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.”[5]

In a negative review, Hal Hinson of the Washington Post criticized it as “woefully short on originality.”[6][7]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $18,869,631 in the U.S.[8]


Above the Law is regarded as the first American film to feature Aikido in fight sequences.[9]

Home media[edit]

DVD was released in Region 1 in the United States on January 28, 1998, and Region 2 in the United Kingdom on 26 April 1999, it was distributed by Warner Home Video. It was released on Blu-ray Disc on April 7, 2009.


  1. ^ Goldstein, Patrick (1988-02-14). "Steven Seagal Gets a Shot at Stardom". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-25. 
  2. ^ Canby, Vincent (1988-04-08). "Review/Film; 'Above the Law,' a Detective's Battle". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  3. ^ "Perfect People". perfectpeople.net. 
  4. ^ "Above the Law". Rotten Tomatoes/Flixster. Retrieved 2013-11-03. 
  5. ^ Roger Ebert. "Above the Law". Rogerebert.com. Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  6. ^ "Above the Law". Washington Post. 1988-04-09. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (1988-04-08). "Review/Film; 'Above the Law,' a Detective's Battle". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-12-14. 
  8. ^ "ABOVE THE LAW". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 19 December 2009. Retrieved November 22, 2009. 
  9. ^ Bill Palmer; Karen Palmer; Ric Meyers. The Encyclopedia of Martial Arts Movies. Scarecrow Press, 1995. p. 2. ISBN 1461672759. 

External links[edit]