Monday, March 22, 2010

Film Review: OUT FOR JUSTICE (1991, John Flynn)

Stars: 4.2 of 5.
Running Time: 91 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Written by David Lee Henry (ROAD HOUSE, THE EVIL THAT MEN DO). Music by David Michael Frank (THE HERO AND THE TERROR). Starring Steven Seagal, William Forsythe (EXTREME PREJUDICE, PATTY HEARST), Jerry Orbach, Gina Gershon, Julianna Margulies (ER), Raymond Cruz (CLEAR & PRESENT DANGER, THE SUBSTITUTE), bit part by John Leguizamo.
Tag-line: "He's a cop. It's a dirty job... but somebody's got to take out the garbage."
Best one-liner: "Yo, fuck nuts!"

There's a pizza parlor down the street with a signed photograph that depicts Steven Seagal enjoying a slice at their counter. I guess I never thought about too much. But after seeing OUT FOR JUSTICE, that humble little pizza parlor is, in my mind, a veritable cathedral. A national treasure.

Director John Flynn is a master craftsman. He was the kind of detail-oriented, old Hollywood workman who could've become a Steven Spielberg had his proclivities leaned toward family-friendly fare instead of movies where Steven Seagal bashes some dude's brains in with a hard salami.

The salami-bludgeon is hurtling through space with such speed that it made an adequate screencap nearly impossible.

This is why John Flynn is the man. A man of action. And OUT FOR JUSTICE is all about action. Martial arts action. Mafia action. Cop action. Revenge action. Old school, rip-roaring action. Meat cleaver action. Action action action.


It's a gritty slice of the 70's served up on a 90's plate with an 80's garnish. It's the kind of work that should result in Sam Fuller takin' a long drag from one of his token cigars and delivering an appreciative nod, which is really the only kind of work that's worth talking about.

Seagal plays a "wop motherfuckah" named Gino, an old-New York-style cop with deep-rooted ties to the community- but right now, he's got only one thing on his mind: and it's revenge. In particular, revenge against a totally psychopathic, crack-smoking, innocent-bystander-killing, pasty, portly madman played by the one and only William Forsythe.

Does anyone want to lay down some odds on whether Forsythe is actually smoking that crack?

This one speaks for itself.


I still want to see a movie where Forsythe plays Richard Masur's evil twin. Then maybe they team up with another pair of bad twins, Nick Nolte and Gary Busey, to fight white-collar crime perpetrated by, say, Lorenzo Lamas. The whole thing ends when Ironside shows up, and he, Forsythe, and Busey voraciously devour Lamas to the soothing strains of "Hungry Like the Wolf." High-fives commence. Freeze frame.

During the apocalyptic final duel, Seagal accidentally broke Forsythe's nose for real. Forsythe likely responded by laughing maniacally and lapping up his own blood.

Now, whether or not this movie remains faithful to the codes, operations, and minutiae of neighborhood organized crime in Brooklyn is not for me to say. I will say that I was completely convinced- and in the context of this movie, isn't that all that matters? Flynn's matter-of-fact style and David Lee Henry's brawny screenplay lend themselves to this kind of verisimilitude- each anecdote and interaction possesses the plain ring of truth; every character seems perfectly capable of meting out the necessary violence and/or tough talk. It's peppered with old school New Yorkers like Jerry Orbach and Sal Richards, there's a few nods to classic NY crime movies like MEAN STREETS and FRENCH CONNECTION, and the violence has a sort of sordid, bone-crunching, back alley aesthetic to it.

The whorehouse shootout in the last act even hearkens back to the barbaric finale of Flynn's own ROLLING THUNDER.

The supporting roles are solid and believable, from Julianne Margulies' despondent neighborhood hooker to Gina Gershon as Forsythe's spitfiery sis:

to Jerry Orbach as a "gettin' too old for this shit" cop.

In other words, Jerry Orbach, do you mean you're... too old... to... dress like THIS:

Our hero has a ponytail, a penchant for wearing berets and vests, and, at one point, uses a pool cue to duel a martial arts expert aptly named "Sticks" ("POKE HIS EYE OUT!").

He even saves puppies. He's a dedicated follower of fashion. He's a well respected man about town, doin' the best things so conservatively. Apparently he is the culmination of human perfection, according to Kinks lyrics.

I wish I had the balls to gallivant about Coney Island with a beret upon my crown and a puppy within my grasp.

In other words- yes, this movie has moxie. I mean, look at how Seagal defuses potentially volatile situations-


Plus, how many movies end with a minor villain rolling around on the ground groaning "My balls, my balls..." as a puppy takes a piss on his face?

I say- only the best ones. A little over four stars.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

"I still want to see a movie where Forsythe plays Richard Masur's evil twin. Then maybe they team up with another pair of bad twins, Nick Nolte and Gary Busey, to fight white-collar crime perpetrated by, say, Lorenzo Lamas. The whole thing ends when Ironside shows up, and he, Forsythe, and Busey voraciously devour Lamas to the soothing strains of "Hungry Like the Wolf." High-fives commence. Freeze frame."

Someone needs to greenlight this film right NOW! Ah, if only...

Ya gotta love John Flynn. As you point out, the master of the no-nonsense action/crime film. Still idolize THE OUTFIT, which may be Flynn's masterpiece. Robert Duvall? Joe Don Baker? I got no complaints.

Sean Gill said...

I've been kicking myself ever since I turned down a chance to see THE OUTFIT at a 'William Lustig's personal favorites' screening series- I had something else going on that night which was evidently more important (I had already caught ROLLING THUNDER and THE OUTSIDE MAN through the series that week) and just figured I would catch THE OUTFIT on a used VHS... which, as it turns out, said VHS go for about $45 and up on Amazon, and none of my trusted bootleg DVD sites seem to carry it, either. So THE OUTFIT has remained near the top of my must-see-but-can't list for quite some time. Any tips on where to snag it?

HK Fanatic said...

"Out For Justice" has been one of my favorite Seagal movies for years, but I had no idea that it was from the same director as "Rolling Thunder." My mind is officially blown. Now I know why the ending is so hard-hitting and in-your-face...

The scene where Seagal visits the bar and starts shaking everybody up is a beautiful display of scenery chewing on Seagal's part. He seems to relish putting on a thick Italian accent and saying phrases like "chicken shit pussy asshole."

Really, the first four Seagal films are all solid action flicks and easily the best work of his career. It's a shame he got so out of shape and lazy. Then again, what made movies like "Out For Justice" so great wasn't any overt physicality on Seagal's part. It was all about the attitude, the brutality.

If Richie Madano put a sawed-off shotgun to my head and made me pick a favorite Seagal movie, it'd probably be "Marked For Death," just because I love the voodoo-powered bad guy Screwface as a foil for Seagal. But "Out for Justice" is definitely a runner up.

There's an excellent book called "Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal" by Vern (of Ain't-It-Cool-News) that I'd highly recommend. It's a thick book that reads fast thanks to the author's sense of humor and his genuine love of all things Seagal.

Sean Gill said...


MARKED FOR DEATH is one of the few early ones that I haven't seen- now that I see it costars Keith David, I guess I really have no excuse. Welcome to my netflix queue, MARKED FOR DEATH- I hope you don't mind being between DOUBLE IMPACT and BASKET CASE 2.

I definitely flipped through Seagalogy at a book store once and was fairly amused, I might have to read it in total after I catch up on some of the back catalogue.

GuyR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GuyR said...

Oh boy, this is by far my favorite Seagal (yes, even better than Under Siege). Absolutely BRUTAL from the first scene with the pimp to the ending. Fantastic!

I though Marked for Death was poorly directed and disappointing, but I was passed out drunk when I saw it, so perhaps my judgment is clouded.

Sean Gill said...


Well, the director of MARKED FOR DEATH, Dwight H. Little (HALLOWEEN 4, BLOODSTONE) does not exactly inspire confidence, but I'm hopeful that the raw power of Keith David will balance things out.

As for OUT FOR JUSTICE, feet through windshields, meat cleavers through hands, and tooth-smashing cue balls- nope, it doesn't get any better than that.

GuyR said...

Dwight H. Little, eh?
Yeah, I thought he didn't offer Seagal's impeccable fight coreography any Justice.
John Flynn was definitely more Out For some.

bastardjackyll said...

Don't forget Brad Garrett and Dominic Chianese (Uncle Junior from The Sopranos) had early parts in this flick.

Anonymous said...

Forsythe was such a greaseball in this film that his mustache looked a glistening slug.

Brian said...

I remember seeing Marked For Death and Out For Justice in the theaters when they came out new! Best way to see these classics.