With a hapkido hello, it’s Burl, here to review midbudget action! I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Steven Seagal Three Word Title series, inaugurated by Above the Law in 1989 and maintained through to the year 1991 by equally dopey movies like Hard to Kill, Out for Justice, and today’s picture, Marked for Death!
Now, as you might guess, I don’t hold Seagal in terribly high regard, either as an action hero or as a person, based on what I’ve heard! But of course it’s not always the best idea to form an opinion based on rumour and innuendo! Such rumour and innuendo as there is insists that he’s a big blowhard who treats people terribly and plays up some kind of mob connections! Ha ha, I don’t know how much of that is true, but the personal qualities it implies are clearly detectable in his screen presence!
Marked for Death opens with Seagal’s character, John Hatcher, in Mexico, running down good old Danny Trejo of Con Air fame, shooting up a drugs den, and acting like even more of a jerk than he usually does, even to his putative partners! It turns out that at least some of this jerkiness is part of the performance, as we next see Hatcher in a confessional, telling the priest he doesn’t want to be such a knob any more! Ha ha, then he quits his job with the DEA, though his boss, played by good old Peter Jason from Prince of Darkness, doesn’t want to hear about it!
Next the ponytailed ex-cop heads for his home territory of Chicago, where he visits his sister and her family and hooks up with his longtime buddy Max, played by good old Keith David from They Live! He finds, to his dismay, that the old neighbourhood has been taken over by Jamaican drugs gangs, or “posses,” and Max is already prepared to take them on! A dread mon called Screwface, played by Basil Wallace from Return of the Living Dead III, is behind it all, and is much feared in the drugs gang community for his brutality and his voo-doo!
Seagal struts around looking ridiculous in dumb clothes he designed, or anyway chose, and speaking dumb words that he wrote, or claimed to, and wearing just the dumb expression you’d expect from, say, a caveman being shown a flashy card trick! In most of his movies, thanks to the crushing insecurity he feels every day, Seagal’s slapfight style involves mainly him delivering beatings on people and twisting limbs here and there, while never so much as feeling the brush of his opponent’s fingertips ‘pon his cheek! Here he at least gets a few bonks, and finds himself in a couple of sticky situations, as when the drugs gang crushes his beautiful Mustang with him inside, then tosses a Molotov cocktail in with him, or when they tie him down and prepare to sacrifice him to Damballa or someone similar!
Other characters include Joanna Pacula from Gorky Park and Black Ice, playing some kind of ill-defined expert who gets a crush on the kung-fu blockhead and is completely forgotten about by the end of the movie; and Tom Wright, the hitchhiker from Creepshow 2, playing a Jamaican cop on the hunt for Screwface so the movie can claim not to simply be a 90 minute anti-Jamaica slur! Other attempts to ward off criticisms the filmmakers clearly expected include a small speech about the tough lives led by the underclasses of Kingston, a little note at the tail end of the credits reading “The posse phenomenon is estimated to be a fraction of one percent of the Jamaican population and should not detract from their country or the contributions Jamaicans have made to this country,” and a cameo appearance by Jimmy Cliff of Club Paradise fame! But it all still seems a little bit mean!
It’s a pretty poor show, but it has a few pleasures! Seagal and his awful outfits have camp value of course, and the action is sometimes okay, sometimes ho-hum, but there are Special Makeup Effects, which I always like to see in an action movie! Ha ha, some of them, like a fake head for an eye-gouging scene, are a bit ropey, but that somehow makes them even better! Lots of early-90s action pictures seem coughed in from the 80s, and this, with its Reefer Madness-like sophistication about drugs and its hero who forswears violence only to renege immediately his loved ones are threatened, is certainly one of them!It’s full of Jamaican accents and patois that are as phony as the bad guy’s blue eyes, and while it might be one of Seagal’s goriest movies (there’s a hand chopped off, a head chopped off, the requisite broken limbs and of course the eye gouge), it’s also one of his stupidest, and that’s really saying something! I give Marked for Death one inscrutable hand signal!