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Out For Justice (1991)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

OUT FOR JUSTICE (1991)

Starring: Steven Seagal, William Forsythe, Jo Champa, Jerry Orbach, Sal Richards, Gina Gershon

Written By: David Lee Henry Directed By: John Flynn

The Short Version

Steven Seagal reaches the zenith of “over the top” and just keeps right on going.

Out for Justice is one of the great expressions of 90s style action before the genre started to decline.

Forget any pretenses at plot; just sit back and watch the asses get kicked while the f-bombs get dropped.

The “F” does not stand for “family friendly.”

For Seagal fans, Out for Justice is a must-own, and worth a look for any real 90s action fan regardless.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

ASIAGO.

Why?  Because it’s sharp and Italian!  You got a fuckin’ problem with that?!


Pairs Well With...

PERONI.

Why?  Because if any movie’s a beer movie, this one’s it, and that beer had better be fuckin’ Italian if it’s gonna fit in.  Just don’t use the bottle to start bashing heads, capice?

“Don’t go pushing my patrons around, ya prick ya!”

“Prick?  Look around you over here.  Is this the proper setting for profanity?”

“Hey, fuck you!”


If you’re looking for any deep meaning behind the title of Out for Justice, don’t bother.  In theory, justice does get served in a cop-as-vigilante sort of fashion, but everyone’s corrupt in one way or another (even our hero, to a degree).  With that said, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that at the end of the day, no one gives a damn about that little detail so long as sufficient numbers of asses are kicked.

Take me, for instance.  Out for Justice is raw action and violence and bone-crunching fun, and I love it.

As for the title, it’s just something that the Steven Seagal Random Title Generator spewed out.  For his first five films (this is Number Four), the rule seems to have been that the title needed to be made up of two or three words that could complete a sentence that begins with “Steven Seagal is…”; i.e. “Steven Seagal is… Out for Justice.”  Because let’s face it, if this movie’s title had to reflect the true essence of the thing, it probably would have been Fuck You and Die, Goombah!

But hold that thought for a minute.  First, what passes for our story.

The movie blows its entire quotient for deep intellectual meaning with its opening title card, which displays a quotation from Brooklyn-born playwright Arthur Miller:

“While to the stranger’s eye one street was no different from another, we all knew where our ‘neighborhood’ somehow ended.  Beyond that, a person was… a stranger.”

Or, in the parlance of the rest of the film, “What happens in Brooklyn stays in fuckin’ Brooklyn and if you ain’t from Brooklyn then it ain’t none of your fuckin’ business, so just fuhgeddaboudit or I’ll kick your fuckin’ teeth in.”  Trust me; it’s a fair translation.

With that out of the way, we meet Detective Gino Felino (Steven Seagal, Above the Law), who grew up in the neighborhood and decided to stay there as a cop, much to the surprise of some.  When he’s not beating up pimps or rescuing puppies (really), he tries to do right by the people of Brooklyn.  Then some drugged-up wannabe goombah named Richie Madano (William Forsythe, The Rock) decides to shoot Gino’s partner dead in front of a local supermarket, and all hell breaks loose.  The police department is up in arms, Gino’s livid, and even the local mobsters are pissed. 

From then on, it’s a race to see who gets the privilege of making Richie pay, while Richie himself figures that since it’s undoubtedly his last night on Earth, he might as well go out with as big a bang as he can muster…

Simple enough, right?  It’s actually tighter than it sounds, with no real plot holes to speak of (outside the standard mulligan given to 90s action flicks in which we agree to not arrest the cops no matter what they do) and a script that never drifts away from its central theme of a neighborhood that takes care of – and takes out – its own.  Sure, everyone’s a stereotype, but the thing about stereotypes is that they at least tend to stay consistent.  What left beyond that?  Here’s a handy look-and-listen checklist.

Listen for enough f-bombs to make even Quentin Tarantino blush.  Some enterprising soul counted 114 of them; personally, I think that number is low.  (By the way, assuming a 91 minute runtime with 6 shaved off for credits, that averages to one and a third f-bombs being dropped every minute.)  However, as with most Tarantino scripts (of which this isn’t one; our writer is David Lee Henry), the profanity matches the characters: you never at all disbelieve that this is how these people really talk.  (Indeed, you know plenty who do, unless you live under a sterling silver rock.)  So why do I bring it up so early in the list if I think that it’s no big deal?  Because it’s really fuckin’ obvious and it hits you like a ton of bricks from the very start of the movie; that’s why.

Listen to how fuckin’ New Yawk Italian Out for Justice desperately wants you know it is.  Gino Felino, Richie Madano, Bobby Lupo, Don Vittorio… Mama Mia!  Pour that sauce on any thicker and you’ll need a shovel to get at what’s underneath.  Sheesh.

Speaking of, listen to some of the most horrible Brooklitalian accents you will ever hear.  Steven Seagal’s is particularly hilarious… when he remembers to use it, that is.

Look for the party to get started early as Gino steps in to teach a pimp who’s the boss.  Say what you want about the racial stereotyping – I think we’ve already touched on the fact that Out for Justice is one giant stereotype festival already – but there really is something deeply satisfying about seeing that pimp get tossed through a windshield.

Look for Steven Seagal to reach his badass zenith with this movie.  After this one, he goes mainstream, then over the socially conscious edge, and then into that sad realm we hate to call “decline.”  But at this point, he’s still an ass kicking machine doing it his way in a movie that literally no one else could carry in proper style.  The aikido is still present, but it’s heavily toned down in favor of gunplay to better suit his opposition’s skill set.  (Someone decided – fairly, I think – that Brooklyn goombahs are not likely to count many upper echelon black belts within their ranks.)  Indeed, the signature bone-crunching only occurs a couple of times despite the consistent onslaught of brawls that make up Out for Justice, but fans need not despair.  Seagal makes up for it by using a cue ball wrapped in a rag to do some serious damage at a pool hall, and for those who really want to see bones break, he takes a shotgun to someone’s leg and blows the foot and ankle clean off, as in fully severed with spears of bone visible coming out the bottom.  Don’t worry, my friends; skeletons do get punished here.

Look for William Forsythe to give a standout performance as the villain despite the fact that it’s really obvious he couldn’t last ten seconds against Steven Seagal in a hand to hand combat matchup.  How does he make up for it?  Pure, a-hole goombah attitude, combined with a Busey-esque “batshit insane” approach to the character that makes him one of the most memorable baddies Seagal has ever faced off against.  The character of Richie Madano isn’t out to win; even in his perpetual state of drugged-up lunacy, he knows from the very beginning that he’ll be dead within 24 hours, either by the cops or by the mob.  He just wants to go out with gusto after settling all the scores he’s built up in life, and Forsythe seizes the unique acting opportunity provided by his character’s outlook and, like Richie himself, makes the most of it.  I know most people aren’t going to be watching Out for Justice with an eye toward thespian achievement, but if you don’t notice what William Forsythe is doing, you’re missing out on something good.

Look for almost everything you expect from an action flick of this era, amped.  Look for guns, look for brawls, look for blood, look for guys being tossed out from high floors, look for hookers, look for mobsters, look for crooked cops, look for drugs… look for everything except for the strip club.  (Sorry; apparently, that didn’t fit the criteria of being a “neighborhood” establishment.)

Look for the action to be buffered at regular intervals by little moments that are meant to remind you that it’s all about “the neighborhood.”  Don’t worry, though; they tend not to take long, and actually do serve to heighten the overall tension most of the time.   No matter what, you’re never more than a few minutes away from carnage of some sort.

Did you forget that this is supposed to be Brooklyn?  Listen for the Beastie Boys to remind you of the fact during a montage.  I must admit, it’s a nice touch.

Look out for your own palm heading for your face at high velocity when the cop’s desk drawer is opened to reveal cash, drugs, and stacks of naughty Polaroids.  That would be his desk drawer at the police station, mind.  Seriously.  No one ever said that the crooked ones were the brightest bulbs in the box.

Look for Jerry Orbach (Universal Soldier) to add two seconds of class to a cast of cops who otherwise are pretty well indistinguishable from the mobsters, save for the fact that the cops aren’t as well dressed.

Look for Gina Gershon (Showgirls) to play yet another attitude-ridden bad girl who pretends to have class but doesn’t.  Raise your hand if you can remember her playing anything else without having to think about it for more than ten seconds.  Yeah; thought so.

Softcore fans can look for the film debut of Shannon Whirry in a five minute quickie as a cocktail waitress with a horrible accent who never quite falls out of her top despite threatening to.  This same demographic can also look for Julie Strain, who wears nothing at all, but also only appears in a few compromising Polaroids before showing up as a motionless corpse.

Amidst all of the carnage, animal lovers can look for what may be the biggest dropping of the “cute” bomb in any Seagal flick as our hero rescues a fluffy little puppy that some asshat decided to stuff in a trash bag and toss out of a car window.  As Seagal rescues the puppy, he literally prays to run into the jerk responsible again… anyone care to take bets on what the last scene in the movie might entail? 

Look for the puppy to get in the last word, so to speak.

Well, almost.  As the credits roll, listen for Steven Seagal bringing on the background vocals for the Gregg Allman song that plays at the end… a song that Seagal also co-wrote.  That’s two flicks in a row; I smell a trend…

And when it’s all said and done, look at one of the best examples of the early 1990s action genre, before the sanitizing crews came in and watered it all down as the decade wore on. 

Bottom line, Out for Justice stands as one of Steven Seagal’s most memorable films, and as a poster child for its era in general.  For Seagal fans, this, like the rest of his first five movies, stands as a “must-own,” and for anyone else who loves action flicks that aren’t afraid to kick some fuckin’ ass in those exact terms, Out for Justice is at the very least a “must-see.”

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, March, 2012


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