Marked For Death (1990)

Marked For Death (1990)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Dwight H. Little

Starring: Steven Seagal, Basil Wallace, Tom Wright, Joanna Pacula, and Keith David

John Hatcher (Seagal) is a retired DEA agent and now police “troubleshooter” who doesn’t like the fact that a ruthless Jamaican gang is now selling drugs to children at the local schools and getting into violent turf wars. (We’re helpfully informed that these gangs are called “posses”). Deciding to clean up the streets, he teams up with old buddy Max (David) and a Jamaican cop named Charles (Wright). But a psychotic, violent, pure evil baddie named Screwface (Wallace) is the head of the snake, as it were. It seems that these Jamaicans are not irie. Not irie at all. When members of Screwface’s gang – sorry, posse – target Hatcher’s sister and her young daughter, Hatcher gets really mad and decides to eliminate the posse for good. He even gets to travel to Jamaica, which seems like a delightful perk during your vengeance-obsessed rampage. Will Hatcher and the gang get Screwface…or will the fact that he’s MARKED FOR DEATH get in his way? Find out today!

Ah, to go back to those golden years when action movies were violent, bone-crunching affairs that delivered the goods with a nice, simple revenge plot, some nudity, a few car chases, shootouts, Martial Arts scenes, and a minimum of dilly-dallying; when Seagal movies had quality, the good guys were good and the bad guys were evil. This is exactly what Marked For Death encompasses, and we couldn’t be happier about it. 

The initial Seagal “three-word title” era was clearly the best time in his career, and here is a prime example from those glory years. It seems he actually cares, and all he wants to do is take drugs off the streets – WAY off. If that means some baddies have a rough time of it, so be it. Comes with the territory.

Because Seagal was embraced by Hollywood at the time, it has good production values and is shot well. Perhaps one of the all-time best Seagal action sequences is in Marked For Death – the car chase/mall fight. It’s truly excellent and Seagal at his best. Teaming him up with Keith David so they can go bust some heads was the right choice and pays off well. 

Opposite them is a tour-de-force performance by Basil Wallace as Screwface – Wallace goes “all in” as a truly scary and unhinged bad guy. Action movies need a bad baddie, as we always say, and here you get a doozy. It would have been nice to see more of Joanna Pacula, but something had to give, because this movie really moves – great pacing is another plus here. There’s really not much fat to speak of. That would come in later Seagal vehicles.

Right before Hatcher and Max go on their final “revenge vacation” to Jamaica, there’s a nice “making the weapons” montage that we always love to see. These guys don’t do off-the-rack bullets. They take the time to craft their own. If Seagal’s career as a Lawman ever ends (we hope it doesn’t), he could always move back to Brooklyn – where he was in Out For Justice – and sell artisanal ammunition. That even has a nice ring to it. 

And, in what is perhaps the opposite of Burt Reynolds in Malone (1987), everybody already knows Hatcher. From the local hoodlums to the police higher-ups, it seems everybody is always saying something like, “oh, it’s you, Hatcher” – everyone in Chicago has had prior experience with the guy. Someone else that knows Hatcher (well, Seagal, really)? Jimmy Cliff. Seagal insisted he perform in the movie, and he even does so with the musical backing of Seagal himself. He also co-wrote the song “John Crow”, which makes sense as it directly mentions the name Screwface in the lyrics. You never see movies nowadays that reference the characters in song. It’s really a shame we’ve lost that.

Marked For Death represents the middle of an action-movie trifecta for director Dwight Little. Previous to this, he directed Getting Even (1986) of “Kenderson!!!!” fame, and after it he came up with another winner – Rapid Fire (1992). Clearly the guy knows his stuff, which would explain why Marked For Death delivers the goods. Too bad he had to go into TV work because Hollywood sucks so much now. He should have continued making enjoyable action movies like the three mentioned above – imagine what he could have done had he continued on that path? Well, let’s be thankful for what we’ve got.

Perhaps not wanting to seem insensitive to the Jamaican community, there is a credit at the end of the  movie that informs us that – and I’m paraphrasing here – “bad Jamaicans” represent less than one percent of the total Jamaican population in the U.S., and that the evils of posses were blown out of proportion for entertainment purposes only. 

I’m sure immigrant communities that saw Marked For Death and then waited until the end of the end credits appreciated this. In other words, relax, people, Screwface isn’t going to be coming to a community near you. However, due to the popularity of then-current In Living Color sketch “Hey Mon!” and its hardworking ethos, this may have been rendered unnecessary. But we digress. Sometimes pretty far.

Marked For Death is prime early-90’s video store action, prime Seagal, and a darn fine time in front of your TV screen. Crack open a cold one and enjoy.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Roger Renman said...

This is my favorite Seagal. The amount of ultraviolence and the gang setting (sorry, I mean) ”posse” setting was typical of early 90s action cinema. According to the ever ”reliable” imdb, Dwight H. Little is in pre-production of a punchfighter called Street 2 Death Fight.

Ty said...

This is our favorite as well. It will be interesting to see what Little does with a punchfighter.

Anonymous said...

My buddy Mark and I used to watch this one over and over, and there was one time when it served our real-life situation perfectly. We were both infielders on our high school baseball team, and during one particular game we were being shelled by the north side rivals, whose team featured twin brothers who absolutely hammered the ball. As I remember it, Rich hit a double, and was immediately followed by his brother Ross, who homered. As the brothers circled the bases, I wandered over from third to Mark at shortstop and said "I hope they weren't triplets." We actually had to cover our faces with our gloves for the rest of the inning so nobody could see us giggling. Still love MFD and all the early Seagals to this day.

Ty said...

Thanks for sharing your memories, we appreciate it. Always to make a Seagal reference no matter where you are.