Should I Watch..? Marked For Death
What's the big deal?
Marked For Death is an action crime thriller film released in 1990 and was directed by Dwight H. Little. The film served as a starring vehicle for Steven Seagal who was cast as DEA operative John Hatcher who finds himself thrown up against a vicious Jamaican drugs cartel. The film also features Keith David, Basil Wallace, Tom Wright and an early appearance by Danny Trejo. The film was released to a mixed reception from critics and it only went on to take $58 million worldwide. Critics felt that the movie was a fairly standard Seagal release and not sufficiently different from either Above The Law or Hard To Kill, although the movie heavily borrows elements of Jamaican culture such as Obeah, a belief system similar to voodoo. None of this helps it stand out from the crowd, however, and it has been consigned to my personal Hall Of Shame for reasons that should become obvious.
What's it about?
Returning from his work in Colombia and the death of his partner, DEA agent John Hatcher retires and heads back to his home city of Chicago. Meeting up with old friend Max, they enjoy a drink together before the bar erupts into a gunfight between rival drug gangs. John arrests one of the shooters and learns from Max that the Jamaican Posse and their mysterious leader Screwface are slowly dominating the drugs scene in Chicago. The next day, John's house is hit by members of Screwface's gang in a drive-by which critically injures John's daughter Tracey.
John then comes out of retirement and teams up with Max in order to bring Screwface down. As the war between them escalates, John realises that he needs further help in the form of cop Charles and Jamaican gang expert Leslie. As John's quest for revenge gets ever bloody and the threats to him and his family get more dragged into the conflict, what hope does he actually have of taking Screwface down?
Dwight H. Little
Michael Grais & Mark Victor
Release Date (UK)
7th June, 1991
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
Seagal certainly has his fans (granted, I'm not one of them) and they'll probably get the most out of Marked For Death which is possibly one of Seagal's strangest films so far. Throwing in the black magic mumbo-jumbo gives the film an oddly supernatural element though this doesn't particularly affect the action scenes. Seagal definitely has his strengths in these areas, dispatching baddies with a variety of firearms and well-timed martial-arts moves. He also looks the part, despite the ponytail - all he has to do is walk into a room to give the impression that he's not a man to mess with.
Seagal may have been feeling more confident in his acting abilities as the only recognisable member of the supporting cast is David, who only really serves as plot exposition. Between Seagal's meaty whispering and the heavy Jamaican accents, what little plot is included is pretty much lost although I suspect I'm not missing anything to write home about. The film also allows Seagal plenty of time to deliver an actual performance, one where he can demonstrate the emotions going through a man who's just witnessed an armed gang burst into his house and attempt to murder his wife. He doesn't, of course, but at least the film gave him the opportunity to try.
- The Jimmy Cliff song that plays during the credits is called John Crow and was co-written and performed by Seagal himself. It's the first singing appearance by Seagal who wouldn't release his debut album until 2005's Songs From The Crystal Cave.
- The back cover of the DVD featured a photo from Licence To Kill of a truck performing a wheelie. Not only does this clip not appear in the movie but the Bond film is a MGM release, not 20th Century Fox.
- The movie marked the feature film debut for Wallace, who has Jamaican ancestry in real life. His character's name, Screwface, is apparently derived from a Bob Marley song.
What's not to like?
Even Seagal's most fervent supporters were beginning to notice a trend at this early stage in his career. At no point is Hatcher ever in any real danger - Seagal blasts through the movie like an indestructible cardboard cut-out - and despite the kooky nature of the mysterious Screwface, you're never in doubt as to how the film ends. With the removal of any tension, the film is essentially a string of fist fights and shootouts occasionally interrupted by Keith David explaining to the viewer, via dialogue, what's happened so far. Special shout-out to the "twist" ending which is not only stupid but predictable.
Worse still, the pacing of the movie is uneven as it grinds to a halt whenever the action stops and never gets out of first gear when it starts up again. Seagal's acting is as bad as it's ever been and isn't helped by Wallace who is almost incomprehensible as Screwface. Even the highlight of any Seagal picture - the action scenes - are uninspired and nothing out of the ordinary. We know Seagal can do action and that he can do it a lot better than this. After all, this is the man who broke Sean Connery's wrist by accident on the set of Never Say Never Again. But regardless, Seagal wasn't quite the leading man you hope for in Marked For Death and it wouldn't have prevented the film from being a boring, overlong and ill-written flop. Despite the running time, this film felt much longer.
Should I watch it?
Fans of the Ponytailed One lamenting his straight-to-video career might be fond of looking back over his earlier cinema releases but Marked For Death is a lousy, straight-up action flick for everyone else. With an almost invisible plot beyond the initial set-up and action scenes that even Seagal can't improve, there are plenty of other action films that offer much more to viewers who quickly become jaded. This movie brings nothing new to offer and so it's a very hard film to truly recommend.
Great For: Seagal aficionados, real-life Jamaican drug pushers
Not So Great For: anyone looking for a thrilling action movie, the action genre in general
What else should I watch?
One thing guaranteed to bring people together is a discussion about Seagal's best film to date because the answer on everyone's lips will be Under Siege. Essentially Die Hard on a battleship, the film sees Seagal square off against Gary Busey's treacherous officer and Tommy Lee Jones' demented revolutionary rocker. But the film is made with such panache and passion that despite Seagal's usual monosyllabic performance, you go along with it and enjoy it all the same. To a lesser extent, you could argue the same for Under Siege 2: Dark Territory which substitutes the enjoyable baddies from the first film for an insane computer hacker and replaces a naval vessel with an out-of-control train in the Rocky Mountains. Otherwise, it's business was usual.
For a long time, Seagal was in self-imposed exile in straight-to-video films like Belly Of The Beast after the big-screen disaster that was the ridiculous Half Past Dead. It wouldn't be until 2010's Machete before cinemagoers would see Seagal again but he appears to have continued to stay away from Hollywood, content to appear in bargain basement rubbish as well as filming his reality TV show, Steven Seagal: Lawman. Well, when he's not cosying up to his good pal Vladimir...
© 2015 Benjamin Cox