MARKED FOR DEATH (1990)
MARKED FOR DEATH
Directed by Dwight H. Little
Written by Michael Grais & Mark Victor
Starring Steven Seagal, Basil Wallace, and Keith David
Seagal Kill Count: 9
Best Line: “One thought he was invincible, the other thought he could fly. They were both wrong."
If 1985 was the summer of Schwarzenegger, 1990 was the season of Seagal. With the moderate success of Above the Law, both Hard to Kill and Marked for Death were put in motion for 1990, both grossing over 40 million dollars against modest budgets. It was official - it was ponytail time.
John Hatcher is a cop who has gone too far undercover and decides that it's time to hang it up to ease his guilty conscience. When he goes to visit his sister and an old friend in Chicago, Hatcher finds out that a Jamaican posse led by a man named Screwface has taken over the streets using drugs and violence. After he gets in the way of a hit, Hatcher and his family becomes marked for death, and he must fight back.
The violence in this movie is refreshingly brutal after the (somewhat) neutered action in Hard to Kill. Arms, legs, necks, and backs are snapped with a cool efficiency. We get some realistic blood splatter after gunshots and we even get a head chopped off cleanly.
The main villain, Screwface, is the most interesting that we've seen in a Seagal movie to date, although he's horribly underwritten and could have been much better. Still, it's good to see Seagal go up against his usual formula of corrupt cops.
There's also a really good car chase scene where Seagal and David trail a few Jamaicans through a park and then some city streets. It's very well done, and ends in a jewelry store fight that's pretty epic.
Seagal shows a tiny bit more acting range here, and actually seems legitimately charismatic at points.
Keith David is always a welcome presence on screen, but he's given nothing to do here when the shit hits the fan. In the first action scene he's a part of, he literally sits in the car the entire time. The next action scene, he wildly rattles shotgun blasts from the passenger seat of a car (hitting nothing) and then when the chase stops, he goes right while Seagal goes left. Seagal beats the hell out of four Jamaicans while David does...nothing, and again just shows up when the fights are over.
Screwface could have been a great villain. In the script, he's written as a 6'4" albino giant, which is way more memorable than how Basil Wallace portrayed him (as a Jamaican with obvious green contacts). Wallace also goes up against Seagal in the climax of the movie, and it's an even fight (which I previously said was refreshing)...but it's clear that he can't fight. The swordfight is clumsy and the hand to hand combat is clunky. It's also very hard to understand him (and the other Jamaicans) because of their thick accents, so this movie is better watched with the subs on.
There's also this whole mystery to Screwface, this myth that he gets his power from ritualistic killings. He's multiple places at once, which is revealed to be twins in the end...but this is never explored and feels sprung upon the audience at the last minute to get to the twist. It could have been quite cool.
Seagal's jacket (see above). It's black vinyl, but has a gold dragon on each side and a giant gold tiger on the back. If he's trying to blend in in Chicago, that's not the way to go.
The script is rough yet again. Seagal tried to sue the producers/writers of the movie for credit. He was unsuccessful, but claims to have rewritten "93% of the movie". I had the chance to read the original script (titled 'Screwface') and he may have a bit of a point.
One of the worst scenes in the film happens when Seagal is driving to his sister's house. He pulls up and sees construction happening on his street (a garbage truck is there too). As he takes the detour, a tractor pins him between the garbage truck and levels the top of the car, and once Seagal is pinned inside, Screwface walks up and drops a molotov cocktail in. Seagal rolls out at the last second, narrowly escaping the blast. The logistics of this scene make absolutely no sense.
First off, there was actual gravel and other construction project materials and vehicles here. So the Jamaicans either had these for some reason or borrowed/rented them. Seems like a hassle if you just want someone dead. They then held tight in that position while they waited for him to come home. So all of that happens, and they get Seagal pinned in. They have at least 10 other gang members there and can easily blast him with ten different guns, but...no. They have one guy walk up and drop a molotov in...and then they all leave, before seeing the job through. How, during read throughs, did no one else bring this up?
Seagal also has what appears to be a love interest, but she's on screen for just a few minutes and nothing ever develops. I'm guessing that more was filmed, but not shown.
Although ultimately disappointing, this was miles better than Hard to Kill. The fight scenes crackle and the car chase is great, elevating it from some of the other films up to this point.
My sequel idea for Marked for Death, titled Marked for Death 2 (original, right?) would take place a year after the first movie ends. Since we didn't get to fully explore the love interest, we'll assume that happened off screen, and we're at Hatcher and her wedding. All of the original cast members are back, including Keith David. Of course we'll have some joke about having their honeymoon in Jamaica.
When the Hatchers get back to their apartment, there is a cow tongue nailed to the door (just as they did to his sister's in the first movie) and the door is kicked in. They've marked him for death again. Turns out that Screwface wasn't the top Jamaican in the organization. Hatcher calls his sister to warn her, but a man answers. This is Smoke (played by Tiny Lister Jr.). Since we didn't get to use the albino giant in the first one, we're going to use him here. He alone performs a ritual killing on Hatcher's sister, finishing what Screwface started.
The ending of course, would have Seagal stabbing Smoke with a corkscrew in the face, saying "you want to be Screwface, now you're Screwface."
OTHER INTERESTING NOTES:
In the script, John Hatcher is a drunk named Gianni Stefano, and he's part of the mob. He was never a cop.
Danny Trejo makes an appearance here in the beginning of the movie.