The tagline for Steven Seagal’s 1990 coption (that’s cop + action) movie Marked for Death is a wealth of specificity, more than hinting at the mediocrity encased in the film’s stunningly slow 93 minutes:
He’s a good cop. In a bad mood.
For heaven’s sakes. What ever could cause a good cop to be in a bad mood?! Please do enlighten us! I am already riveted and we’re all anxiously awaiting to see how this mysterious, but sure-to-be-exciting dynamic of Good and Bad will play out.
The result, of course, is predictable and surprisingly forced, even for a throw-away flick of the admittedly hit-or-miss era of early 90s action flicks. The deadly dull vigilante vengeance fantasy follows a formula that anyone who has ever seen a film will surely recognize:
Drug enforcement officer John Hatcher (Seagal) does things his own zany way, but he gets the job done, and you can bet your ass he’s the best damn cop we’ve got. Unfortunately, his loose cannon style leads to his partner’s untimely death at the hands of drug dealers somewhere south of the border and Hatcher decides to hang up the saddle. The newly “retired” cop returns to his hometown to live a quiet life with extended family and reconnects with Max, the stoic football coach and best friend (magical black man alert, folks!) who clues him in to the bad element that has moved into town and is threatening their peaceful way of life (Foreshadowing? Foreshadowing!).
The now civilian hero reiterates that he’s retired, but his resolve is tested when he witnesses violence perpetuated by aforementioned gang. Being of the martial arts persuasion, the man feels the need to intercede and prevent murderous acts from transpiring. Hero begets wrath of gang, who immediately make a beeline for the closest two females in his life and proceed to assault them in one manner or another. Hero officially comes out of retirement and embarks on a mission to kick some righteous ass.
It’s around the time that Hatcher returns home that the film begins to really fall off the decidedly wobbly rails. Hatcher’s supposed quaint hometown is somewhere in the greater Chicago area, which, as I have been led to believe was scary as shit in the late 80s/early 90s. Are we to assume that before the arrival of the drug gangs that this was some peaceful hamlet with an apple pie cooling on every windowsill?
The setting for this film isn’t the only head-scratcher. There’s also the whole matter of the Jamaican gangs posses that have overtaken the city. This era and brand of action film isn’t exactly known for its nuanced depiction of ethnicity—nor villainy, for that matter—but the chief foe, Screwface, is so outrageous in all his voodoo, dreadlocked “hey mon” vulgarity that every act of successive violence is more unintentionally hilarious than the last. Sweet jiminy jillikers: did one of the writers go to Jamaica for a honeymoon in ’88 and come back to the hotel room to find his new wife in bed with the local surf instructor? This isn’t to say the Jamaican drug cartels aren’t compelling adversaries, but, really, where did all of this outlandish hostility for the Rastafarian come from?
Marked for Death was released at a point when Seagal’s lustrous film career was just picking up steam. Released the same year as the decidedly more entertaining Hard to Kill, the lackluster Marked for Death suggests that the former won all of Seagal’s energy and skill, which is certainly a backhanded compliment if ever one did exist.
In watching more recent Seagal films, you would probably be inclined to think “wow, he can’t quite cut it like he used to,” particularly during the action scenes, such as when he is required to move from one room to the other or participate in a very light jog for more than 5 seconds. But watch most any Seagal film from his earlier days and you’ll still be hard-pressed to find him engaged in hand-to-hand combat that amounts to much more than a cinematic version of slappy paws. Most of these exchanges seemed to be capped off with a snapping of his foe’s forearm. Really, Seagal? That’s your signature move? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Oh, wait, where was I? Oh, yes:
5 Things That You Need to Know About Marked for Death:
1. You only have to wait about 2-3 minutes after the opening credits to find yourself with a gratuitous boob shot, courtesy of the requisite Strip Club Scene which must have seemed novel at some point in filmography, long before every douchebag action flick director identified it as a clever “arty” way to sneak gyrating hips and oiled up bosoms into the shot. Oh, and rest assured mammary fans, this isn’t the only time you’ll get to see some areola apropos of nothing.
2. Seagal’s niece is the shitty little girl from The Last Boy Scout. I cannot seem to shake this adorable little ragamuffin, who apparently had a relative in the cop movie biz during the 90s.
3. There’s the magic to consider. No, I don’t mean the Hollywood magic that drips from this film like so much black shoe polish from Seagal’s shellacked ponytail, but rather, the aforementioned voodoo (possibly Obeah?) variety. Scarface err Screwface bleeds chickens, chants, rolls his eyes back in his head, the works. All of which necessitates the special skill set of a frumpy-sexy bespectacled blond anthropologist who will remind astute viewers of another toeheaded nerd female love interest from a significantly more nuanced film.
4. Sit back and enjoy a car chase that shows a total disregard for the laws of both man and physics while answering the question of what would happen if the iconic scene in The French Connection was reimagined starring Toonces the Driving Cat in place of Gene Hackman.
5. The ending of Marked for Death shows that Seagal was telegraphing terribly boring “twists” long before M. Night Shamalongadingdong was patronizing his audience with killer trees and soggy mermaids (is that what happened in Lady in the Water? Did anyone actually get to the end of that movie?) in the climactic finale.
Anyhow, the answer is: he’s a twin.
Rental Rehab review by Tricia