There’s a throwaway scene early in Out for Justice that pretty much sums up the action genre, and a particular strain of the ’80s action genre, especially. Det. Gino Felino (Steven Seagal) is on the prowl when he comes across a trash-filled station wagon -“Kill’em all, let God sort’em out” reads the bumper sticker - and sees the driver hurl a garbage bag out the window.

Tell me Seagal is about to cripple a man for littering, I thought. But then, the twist: inside the bag is a shivering, defenseless puppy.

“Please God,” Felino says, squinting menacingly into the distance. “Let me run into this guy someday.”

Please, please, may Seagal never stop crossing paths with scumbags. That’s what most Seagal movies are about: watching the jerks of the world get their comeuppance, usually in a brutally over-the-top fashion. The movie’s called Out for Justice, after all, and it offers a pretty satisfying serving of vengeance. The only thing standing in its way is the story.

Gino Felino is a goombah who grew up on Brooklyn’s tough streets, but stayed on the straight and narrow while the rest of his neighborhood, it seems, went crooked. One of those low-level thugs is Richie (William Forsyth), who goes on a crack-fueled, Grand Theft Auto III-style rampage, killing Gino’s partner and practically everyone else he runs into. Gino, who’s considered a member of the community even though he’s a cop, starts pumping local mafia members for tips while trying to track down Richie over the course of a night.

This isn’t The Godfather, and no one should be expecting it to be. Seagal plays a pretty hammy parody of an Italian-American, dropping “fuhgedaboudits” without shame. Likewise, Forsyth’s bugged-out Richie is a cartoon, cackling madly and raising hell. He shoots one woman at point-blank range when she asks him to move his car, and would probably do horrible things to that precious little puppy if he had the chance.

If this all sounds pretty ridiculous, it is - ridiculously awesome. Felino gets right down to business, either breaking limbs or blowing them off completely. In a butcher shop fight, he sticks one unlucky goon’s hand to the wall with a meat cleaver, then beats another senseless with a salami. When he goes to Richie’s bar, he trashes the place with patrons looking on, tossing drinks in laps and generally acting like a dick in the name of the law. After finally provoking a fight, he leaves a mangled mess of bodies in his wake using a cue ball, a rag, and his rage.

Weirdly, the story reins in sequences like these and gives too much screen time over for Felino’s - what’s it called? - character development. If you’re seeking this movie out, you want to see that deadly ponytail kicking ass, not gabbing wistfully about the old neighborhood. But Out For Justice is out for nostalgia, with Felino given to extended reminiscences about how his father worked tirelessly as a knife sharpener, or when one of the local mobsters took him to the movies as a kid.

This movie has the pretension to open with an Arthur Miller quote, denying us the Wilhelm screams we crave before expounding on the Italian-American experience. At times, this builds real atmosphere. Mostly, it slows the action down.

After the first hour, the story really loses its steam. But every time it wanders astray, Out for Justice returns to the heart of what it’s about: A man with an unmarked car, a shotgun — and a puppy, of course.

Andrew Good is a film critic and writer living in San Diego.

Post a Comment