Johnny Walters wrote Beyond The Law alongside the aptly name Chad Law. Directed by James Cullen Bressack, the crime drama is about former cop Frank Wilson (Johnny Messner), who is undertaking his own investigation into the murder of his son. Dramatic irony lets the audience know that Chance Wilson was murdered by Desmond Packard (Zack Ward), son of the infamous mob boss Finn (Steven Seagal). Finn wants Desmond to clean up his mess, even if it means applying pressure to Frank’s only friend Swilley (Bill Cobbs) and trying to avoid Detective Ray (DMX). Will Frank discover the truth before it costs him his life? Can Desmond stay out of trouble long enough for the mob to leave no trail behind him?
Beyond The Law is as average as it gets. The plot is boilerplate, as an ex-officer seeking revenge for a loved one is as old as law enforcement itself. As such, the narrative has a been there, done there feel that the better elements never truly overcome. Of course, things are not helped by the presence of Steven Seagal. Consistently the most boring of all the 1980s/90s action stars, Seagal whisper mumbles his way through the film, failing to infuse any semblance of emotion into his voice. This makes it almost impossible to buy into the stakes at hand.
Of course, it’s not for a lack of trying from the other cast members. Johnny Messner is usually better than the low-budget titles (i.e., Ring Of Death) he’s been relegated to (though Weaponized rules), and here he gives it his all. The actor broods his way through each clue bringing him closer to Desmond, giving every angry beatdown a sense of weight and purpose. Likewise, DMX is excellent as the detective whose loyalty is constantly in question.
“…Frank Wilson…is undertaking his own investigation into the murder of his son.”
But, the MVP of Beyond The Law is Zack Ward. Ward is totally unhinged and absolutely delightful. His manic energy enlivens every scene he’s in and adds the otherwise missing sense of menace. It’s a remarkable turn that begs the question, why did he never become a superstar?
On the technical side of things, Bressack acquits himself well. The director keeps the action flowing well. A scene of Frank beating up some thugs in an alley is especially exciting, and the ending shoot-out is expertly edited, allowing for some visceral enjoyment. Despite the other issues, the filmmaker’s innate understanding of the flow of action and character geography is on full display.
Beyond The Law is well-edited and has exciting action. But it is all in service of a story as old as time itself, possibly older. Messner, DMX, and especially Ward bring a lot of pathos and slow-burn intensity to their cliched roles, allowing audiences to still find something to relate to in the characters. But the big bad, as played by a sleepy Steven Seagal, is not threatening or all that interesting, meaning that stakes never materialize. Nevertheless, if one is jonesing for a turn-your-brain-off actioner and is not too discerning, this will suitably fit the bill.
"…Messner...gives it his all."