Back in 2001, fading action star Steven Seagal starred with rapper DMX in Exit Wounds, one of the last Seagal movies to get a wide theatrical release. Seagal has spent the years since then churning out a huge number of low-budget direct-to-video action movies, in which his participation is increasingly marginal. DMX, meanwhile, was just released from nearly a year in prison in early 2019. So reuniting the two seems like an easy boost for the cheapo thriller Beyond the Law, something to set it apart from the dozens of Seagal movies released in the last 15 years.
Beyond the Law (not to be confused with 1988 Seagal debut Above the Law) squanders that opportunity just as it squanders all of its meager resources, though, as Seagal and DMX never share a single scene. It’s debatable whether Seagal actually shares a scene with anyone, since he’s rarely in the same frame with other actors, making it seem like he shot most of his performance alone on set. Despite his top billing, Seagal has only a supporting role, playing a crime boss who has plenty of henchmen to do his bidding. That means Seagal spends the majority of his screen time sitting down, and he only rouses himself for a few seconds at the end of the movie for something that could charitably be called an action sequence.
The real star of Beyond the Law is current B-movie mainstay Johnny Messner, who plays grizzled ex-cop Frank Wilson, one of those gruff survivalists who lives alone in a cabin in the woods where he catches his own food (although the production can only find a pretty scrawny-looking fish for him to bring home in his introductory scene). Frank’s estranged son Chance (Chester Rushing) got himself involved with some dangerous people and has been found murdered, executed by unhinged criminal Desmond Packard (Zack Ward). Frank’s old cop buddy Det. Ray Munce (DMX) brings Frank back to the unnamed “big city,” where Frank spends a lot of time skulking in dimly lit warehouses and alleyways to track down his son’s killer.
It turns out that Desmond is the son of local underworld figure Augustino “Finn” Adair (Seagal), who reluctantly protects his son even though he thinks Desmond is a short-tempered idiot (which, of course, he is). Aside from his absurdly florid name, Finn’s only personality trait is his fondness for smoking cigars, which Seagal luxuriously puffs on throughout the movie. Sporting his trademark fake-looking widow’s peak and goatee and his tiny glasses, Seagal also delivers all of his lines with some sort of bayou accent, although no one else in the movie sounds remotely Southern. Messner speaks in such a gravelly mumble that it sounds like he prepared for the movie by chewing rocks, and Ward isn’t much more intelligible. At least Bill Cobbs gets in a few entertaining moments as Frank’s crotchety neighbor and best friend.
Director James Cullen Bressack (helming his fourth movie of 2019) has worked mostly in low-budget horror, and he throws in a few random jump scares as Frank has visions of his dead son imploring him for help. Despite Seagal’s prominent presence, Beyond the Law isn’t much of an action movie, and the handful of brief fight scenes are underwhelming, whether Seagal is involved or not. The movie is more of a slow-burn revenge thriller, or at least that’s what it’s trying to be, but the awkward performances and stilted dialogue (“Do you like money?” “Who doesn’t?”) prevent it from generating any actual thrills. It all leads to an anti-climactic ending that seems designed solely to serve the ego of its name-brand star, who still obviously carries enough clout to ruin even the most modest efforts at cinematic storytelling.
(In theaters and VOD.)