Andrew Davis

Above the Law (1988, Andrew Davis)

Above the Law is just about as slick as a film can be. It’s all thanks to director Davis. Even though Davis and star Steven Seagal co-produced, Davis has to overcome Seagal’s acting inability. So all credit to Davis. It isn’t just about maximizing the action, but about getting the plot to provide some interest, so it doesn’t all feel like a commercial for Steven Seagal.

But it is a commercial; Above the Law is an amazing star vehicle. Everything is weighed to make the viewer more and more sympathetic to Seagal’s character. Oh, look, his suffering wife (Sharon Stone in a terribly directed performance) doesn’t want Seagal to battle the CIA task force blowing up Chicago to get Seagal. Oddly enough, the film was released overseas as Nico (Seagal’s character), which suggests some understanding of the egomania on display. But on beautiful display, because even though Davis significantly fumbles almost every action sequence, he’s got these great Chicago locations and he has a great sense of how to use them (which does lead to a rather good foot chase sequence), and he’s got photographer Robert Steadman, who is fabulous.

Unfortunately, editor Michael Brown is awful. He misses visual beats. It doesn’t matter, of course, because Above the Law isn’t actually an action movie, not in a traditional sense. It’s a prototypical mid-to-low budget major studio action movie. Something to not embarrass itself in the theater and do surprisingly well on video.

A slick commercial. Not so much visually slick, but almost pathologically manipulative in making a Seagal a serious movie star. Not an actor; Above the Law never asks Seagal to act. Davis does try to make him likable and is even able to get slight success with Pam Grier (though Davis fumbles directing their scenes; Brown being no help), but it’s not much. It’s never a good performance.

And I don’t even want to look at the Frank Silva villain, which leads to Seagal figuratively throwing away the previous standard–the more exploitative, lower budgeted action movie.

Inoffensive, likable performances from Grier and Ron Dean help a lot. Though Davis is clearly indifferent to his actors’ performances; no one gets any favors. So, either Davis or the editor. Can’t give anyone too much time, otherwise it might not look like Seagal’s a big time movie star.

In the end, Davis is due a lot of respect for this film. He’d be due infinitely more if Above the Law were actually any good.



Directed by Andrew Davis; screenplay by Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett and Davis, based on a story by Davis and Steven Seagal; director of photography, Robert Steadman; edited by Michael Brown; music by David Michael Frank; production designer, Maher Ahmad; produced by Davis and Seagal; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Nico), Pam Grier (Jacks), Henry Silva (Zagon), Ron Dean (Lukich), Sharon Stone (Sara), Daniel Faraldo (Salvano), Miguel Nino (Chi Chi), Nicholas Kusenko (Neeley), Joe Greco (Father Gennaro), Chelcie Ross (Fox), Gregory Alan Williams (FBI Agent Halloran) and Jack Wallace (Uncle Branca).

The League (2008, Kyle Higgins)

A lot about The League is impressive. The filmmakers do a good job creating a stylized 1960s Chicago on a very low budget–director Higgins has some great overhead shots where they change the light saturation to hide it being modern cars on the streets below–and there's a definite attention to detail for most of the scenes.

The short concerns teenage superhero sidekick grown up and investigating a series of murders. Higgins and co-writer Alec Siegel do a decent job plotting out the first half of the short, with Paul Papadakis's masked protagonist playing gumshoe, but everything falls apart once the mystery's solved.

Higgins has problems directing actors (and fight scenes). Papadakis and Reginald James are all right, but Rick Cramer has some really weak moments and lots of screen time.

The League's often impressively produced, but those production values can't overcome Higgins's inability to create tension and the narrative deficiencies.

1/3Not Recommended


Directed by Kyle Higgins; written by Higgins and Alex Siegel; director of photography, Andrew Davis; edited by Dylan Highsmith; music by Joe Clark; production designer, Dorothy Street; produced by Michael Campbell, Wickyladyslaw Czerski and Robin Phillips.

Starring Paul Papadakis (The Wraith), Rick Cramer (The Grey Raven), Reginald James (Blaze), Camden Toy (Nicolai Lennin), Karl Herlinger (Eclipse), David Nett (Vibro) and Andrew Hilyard (Sparrow).

Over the Edge (1979, Jonathan Kaplan)

Over the Edge is explosive. Sorry, maybe that statement is a little glib–but it is literally explosive. More cars blow up in Over the Edge than a season of “The A-Team.” I think Kaplan was going for dramatic effect, but it’s hard to say. Kaplan’s actually the least interesting technical component of the film. Whenever he does make a bold choice, it’s a bad one (he pauses on lead Michael Eric Kramer as he passes from second act to third… as a 400 Blows homage, it fails).

But he’s mostly competent and helped a great deal by the rest of the crew. Andrew Davis’s photography is fantastic, very verité, which fits the film, and Sol Kaplan’s score is haunting. It’s like he’s scoring a forties film noir, not a seventies drama.

The script, from Charles S. Haas and Tim Hunter, has its strengths and weaknesses too. The stuff with the kids is better than the stuff with the parents. It’s clear they’re trying to balance, but it doesn’t come off.

Kramer’s good, usually having to share the screen with more dynamic actors. Matt Dillon’s one of them, but he’s more a dynamic character (Dillon has one of the few weak readings from the teenagers). Vincent Spano’s excellent. Pamela Ludwig and Tom Fergus are both good.

Andy Romano’s okay, but unbelievable (partially due to script), as Kramer’s father. Harry Northup’s great as the dumb cop in charge.

It’s good, but it should be better. The explosions make it absurd.



Directed by Jonathan Kaplan; written by Charles S. Haas and Tim Hunter; director of photography, Andrew Davis; edited by Robert Barrere; music by Sol Kaplan; production designer, James William Newport; produced by George Litto; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Michael Eric Kramer (Carl), Pamela Ludwig (Cory), Matt Dillon (Richie), Vincent Spano (Mark), Tom Fergus (Claude), Harry Northup (Doberman), Andy Romano (Fred Willat), Ellen Geer (Sandra Willat), Richard Jamison (Cole), Julia Pomeroy (Julia), Tiger Thompson (Johnny), Eric Lalich (Tip) and Kim Kliner (Abby).

Under Siege (1992, Andrew Davis)

I suppose, if there were a quiz or something and I thought about it real hard, I’d remember Under Siege brought Tommy Lee Jones… well, not back exactly, so I guess just brought Tommy Lee Jones. Looking at his filmography and the dates, someone could wrongly argue Oliver Stone tried championing him–but it didn’t work out. Under Siege kicked off the unending deluge of bad Tommy Lee Jones movies and signaled the end of Steven Seagal’s career in a way. Seagal ruined the success it gave him.

Watching the film, which I haven’t seen since in twelve years or so, I was surprised at how passable a job Seagal does acting in much of the time. He has absolutely no chemistry with female “actor” Erika Eleniak, but she’s so terrible, it might not be Seagal’s fault. The only reason I thought he might be contributing is how bad he is in certain scenes–like when he has to play the character in a verbal, not physical fashion. Seagal’s first few scenes in the film, when he’s hanging around with the familiar-looking 1990s action movie supporting cast–he’s good in those scenes, he’s visibly having some fun. When he’s alone, he’s fine too, but once he and Eleniak are going on adventures throughout the ship, it’s painful to watch her performance.

Under Siege also put Andrew Davis into the Hollywood mainstream and it’s a little perplexing. While Davis did cast a lot of his standard character actors, only some of them are good, and I’m sure the script had the structure–keep Seagal peripheral for the first act, letting Tommy Lee Jones run away with the movie and give it the pretense of some solid quality–but maybe that one was Davis’s idea. He sure didn’t coax a good performance out of Gary Busey, who’s so annoying the film loses a lot of credibility when the bad guys don’t just kill him so they don’t have to hear him talk anymore.

The action scenes are rather blah too–Seagal’s an unbeatable killing machine–he mows down fifteen guys in one part–and understanding his role as an unbeatable killing machine is part of watching Under Siege. But he doesn’t really kick any ass. I mean, the guy can kick ass, but instead he just shoots at people. It’s boring. The film never establishes itself as “real,” so Seagal’s feats are never particularly exciting.

Also, I’m not sure what the end is supposed to mean–it seems to suggest Seagal, while he doesn’t agree with it, understands why Hawaii needs to get nuked.

But it’s still mildly entertaining, if only because the first act is so incredibly well-done. I mean, the moment where I was wondering when the hostage-taking was going to start (thinking, it’s getting to be about as long as one can wait for it), it started. So it does do something significant right.



Directed by Andrew Davis; written by J.F. Lawton; director of photography, Frank Tidy; edited by Robert Ferretti; music by Gary Chang; production designer, Bill Kenney; produced by Arnon Milchan, Seagal, Steven Reuther, Jack B. Bernstein and Peter MacGregor-Scott; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Casey Ryback), Tommy Lee Jones (Strannix), Gary Busey (Commander Krill), Erika Eleniak (Jordan Tate), Patrick O’Neal (Captain Adams), Colm Meaney (Doumer) and Andy Romano (Admiral Bates).

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