When I think of all the great films Warner Bros. have in their library....
To be fair, fans of Steven Seagal consider 1991's "Out for Justice" one of his best films. Unfortunately, that's not saying a lot. I can only guess that WB had such a good response to their high-definition HD-DVD and Blu-ray releases of Seagal's "Under Siege" that it encouraged them to try again. In any case, "Out for Justice" is more of the same: Seagal punching, kicking, shooting, and cracking wise in his typical low-key manner while the bodies and profanities fly in all directions. If you're into this kind of thing, it works. If you're looking for a good crime flick, Scorsese it's not.
Time was, back in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, when people like Seagal, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jackie Chan, Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Big Arnold, and about 800 Bruce Lee clones ruled the action-movie scene. But either they got old or the stuff they were continually doing got old, because the fad seems to have died out. More recently, the Asian martial-arts films have morphed into high-wire spectacles, and most of the old superstars of the genre do their work in TV, in comedy, in direct-to-video releases, or in State office.
Anyway, whether or not you like violent, comic-book type cop stories, Seagal was on top of his game when he made "Out for Justice." Unlike some of his pictures where he was simply out to lunch.
In this one, he plays an Italian-American policeman, Gino Felino, who grew up tough in the streets of Brooklyn. Now that he's an undercover narcotics cop, that comes in handy because he knows everybody, high-lifes and lowlifes alike. And everybody knows him, for good or for bad. Moreover, Gino speaks fluent Italian and Spanish, so he can communicate with every hood in the hood. If only he were better at delivering lines in English.
People know he's got a temper, too, which for a Seagal character is unusual. Gino can't stand injustice; he can't turn his head when he sees something bad happening. For instance, the movie isn't three minutes old before Gino sees a miscreant pimp roughing up a prostitute, and Gino throws him through a car window. Twice. It's that kind of picture. Oh, and Gino loves children and puppies. How can you knock that?
So, according to formula you've got to have a really, really bad guy for Seagal's character to go after, right? And in this case it's a childhood friend (acquaintance, actually, or schoolmate), Richie Madano, a drug-addled psychopath played by William Forsythe. How bad is Richie? He murders Gino's best friend, a fellow cop, in front of the cop's wife and children. Then he spits on the corpse and shoots him again for good measure. I mean, that's bad. I half expected him to kill the kids next, but he doesn't. Instead, just to be sure we get the idea, not a moment later Richie shoots a woman in the head and blows her brains out for asking him to move his car. Talk about road rage.
So Gino goes after the guy with a vengeance, making "Out for Justice" not so much a picture about law and order as it is "Out for Revenge." What's more, Gino's superior officer, Captain Ronnie Donziger (Jerry Orbach), encourages him to chase down the cretin. Poor Orbach, by the way, gets the thankless job of simply looking grim all movie long and saying about two words.
From this point on, the film is a relentless chase all over town, with Gino thrashing one thug after another trying to squeeze information out of them. It's not a pretty sight, unless you're into pure violence, which is almost all the movie has to offer. I say "almost" because director John Flynn ("Lock Up," "Best Seller") does try to inject a little humor into the proceedings, as well as a little pre-Tarantino weirdness (I liked a group of hoodlums talking about a mouse and Gino himself talking about a body in the back of a car). But Scorsese had already done these things in "Mean Streets" and "Goodfellas," so it's not as if it's entirely original. There are also a few moments where the director lets Gino breathe and reveal a few character details, mostly via his conversations with his wife Vicky and young son (Jo Champa and Julius Nasso, Jr.).
There's not much else to say. Gino enlists the help of local buddies in the mob to help him find Richie, and the mob are more than willing to do this because Richie is giving them a bad name.
Most of the time in a Seagal picture, his character is super cool, but here we see him actually get angry. This is because most of the time Seagal's characters are only trying to save battleships or cities or the world, but in "Out for Justice" it's personal. It's a friend the baddie has killed. You don't mess with friends of the big guy with the ponytail.
WB do up the film in a 1080-resolution, VC-1, high-definition transfer that retains its 2.35:1 theatrical-release aspect ratio. For an HD picture, it is merely OK. There is a touch of blur by HD-DVD standards and some roughness, but it is surely better than any standard-definition picture would be.
Colors are bright, rich, and deep, yet the picture's overall quality is rather dark, and facial tones are not always too natural, ranging from too pink to too purple. Black levels are generally good, but they don't necessarily help with the already dark characteristics I mentioned. While grain is not a problem, either, there is always some grain present to some slight degree and maybe a small amount of transfer noise. For the most part, I'd say the film is probably about as good as the master print from which the engineers made it, and that's all you could ask of it, for better or for worse.
Even though the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 reproduction is somewhat hard, edgy, and forward, noticeable particularly in the background music, the midrange is fairly clean and clear. There isn't much of a stereo spread, though, and the processing sends very little information to the rear speakers except some ambient noise and musical bloom. Dynamics are good and highs are well extended, the latter only emphasizing the soundtrack's overly aggressive upper frequencies.
Not much here. Basically, we get a theatrical trailer, and that's in standard definition, with a 1.78:1 ratio. Beyond the trailer, there are twenty-five scene selections but no chapter insert; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. In addition, we get the usual HD-DVD items: a zoom-and-pan feature, bookmarks, a counter of elapsed time, pop-up menus, and an Elite Red DVD case.
Years ago I reviewed a Steven Seagal film called "Marked for Death." When I received "Out for Justice" on HD DVD, I thought it was the same film until I started watching it. Then I realized my mistake, sort of. The two films appeared only a year apart, but like all Seagal films, they are practically indistinguishable from one another. Somebody gives Seagal's character a reason to go after him. Seagal does. Seagal wins. End of story. "Out for Justice" has a modicum more action and humor than most films of this kind. That doesn't improve it much, but it is watchable insofar as these things go. The high-definition processing also makes it a fraction more palatable. If you're already a fan, go for it. Otherwise, I'd advise caution.