Ralph Novak
April 29, 1991 12:00 PM

Steven Seagal, William Forsythe

Going to a Steven Seagal movie and complaining about violence would be like going to a stagnant pond and complaining about the muck.

But the sadistic violence in this film—sadism for the sadistic voyeur’s sake—is nonetheless alarming. So is what must be a record number of uses of the F word. The F word in question is not farfetched, although that applies too. Seagal plays a Brooklyn cop whose partner is murdered by crack-head-psycho Forsythe on the street in broad daylight in front of his family. Then, during Seagal’s inevitable one-man vendetta, he takes on a whole saloonful of unscrupulous villains and naturally reduces them all to bleeding lumps, thanks to the fact that they politely fight him one at a time.

Little happens that isn’t predictable. The Detroit-born Seagal does adopt a passable Brooklyn accent whose resemblance to the New Jersey dialect Marlon Brando used in On the Waterfront may not be coincidental; a woman character in this film is named Terry Malloy, the name of Brando’s Waterfront pug.

There is also a sprightly bonk-out in a butcher shop that’s choreographed with dexterity. Seagal ends up clubbing one thug with a salami.

Forsythe is a strong enough actor to survive this, but Jerry (Crimes and Misdemeanors) Orbach, as Seagal’s boss, embarrasses himself roundly with a wishy-washy performance.

More strange, the movie is filled with cheap gaffes, non sequiturs and clumsy dialogue. Cars come to abrupt but hardly panic stops, and on the sound track their tires screech as if they had been going 115. Jo Champa, playing Seagal’s wife, at one point begs him to “call off this manhunt,” which would be reasonable except that the manhunt hasn’t started yet.

In one scene, Seagal slavers all over a Mafia don, all but kissing his boots; a few minutes later, with zero motivation, he’s trashing the same gangster, as if writer David Lee (Roadhouse) Henry had realized it doesn’t do Steve’s reputation much good to have him cozying up to hoods.

Another mobster, referring to Forsythe, has the puzzling line, “That piece of s—couldn’t be a gangster if he owned New York.” And Seagal, reminiscing about his immigrant dad’s knife-sharpening cart, laments that his father never recovered from the advent of disposable scissors and knives. (Disposable scissors: an idea whose time has come.)

Seagal, who coproduced, Henry and director John (Lock Up) Flynn have a peculiar notion of morality. They are prissy about showing sex, yet think nothing of having the hero say, “You tell your brother I’m gonna cut off his head and piss down his throat.”

Now if that isn’t justice, what is? (R)

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