"He's a good cop… in a bad mood."
The tagline for 99 percent of Steven Seagal's films. Okay, so I'm kidding. Or am I? Anyway, before the scandals, before reality TV that led to said scandals, before the blues albums, and even before cooking up a storm in his most successful hit, 1992's 'Under Siege,' the aikido master burst into theaters portraying lawmen with a really, really, really short fuse. Seagal's third effort 'Marked for Death' is one such film, and I must admit it's probably my all-time favorite from his catalog. Whether it's the ridiculously over-the-top violence, cheesy action sequences, or cartoonish stereotypes (1990 seemed to be the let's-pick-on-the-Jamaican year apparently, also see: 'Predator 2'), somehow this horribly dated action flick is still one hell of a fun time.
After witnessing his partner's murder while deep undercover in Columbia, Chicago Drug Enforcement Agent John Hatcher (Seagal) is pushed to his breaking point and vows to retire from the force. Hoping some quiet time will do him good, John heads back home to suburbia to visit with his family and friends. But it isn't long before John notices things in the old neighborhood aren't quite the same. First, it seems palm trees have miraculously sprouted all over the Windy City (at least I think he sees them, they're hard to miss). And secondly (and more problematic), it turns out a notorious gang called the Jamaican Posse has moved in on his turf -- polluting the entire area with drugs and violence.
When a gang war bloodbath erupts at a nightclub and John is forced to subdue one of the Posse's gunmen, the drug kingpin, a sadistic voodoo priest known on the streets as Screwface (Basil Wallace), retaliates by shooting up the house of John's sister Melissa (Elizabeth Gracen) and critically wounding her young daughter Tracey (Danielle Harris). Now with his family marked for death and the Posse out of control, John enlists the help of his friend Max (Keith David) and Jamaican-American cop Charles (Tom Wright) to take matters into their own hands and clean up the filth overrunning their town.
Despite having a fair number of hilarious and quotable lines, the story by Michael Grais and Mark Victor (who both co-wrote 'Poltergeist' with Steven Spielberg) is still pretty routine action B-movie fare. But director Dwight H. Little (who lately has been making the rounds on TV directing episodes of 'Prison Break,' 'Dollhouse,' and 'Bones' to name a few) seems to be aware of this fact, and ramps up the violence as much as he possibly can to give his red-blooded male audience what they crave from these kinds of films. So if you want to see bones snap, limbs severed, eyes gouged, torsos impaled, and heads lopped off at the neckline -- they don't get much more brutal than 'Marked for Death.'
Sure, the characters are thin and the acting is often laughable, but who watches Steven Seagal movies for the performances anyway? Steven Seagal is, well, the eccentric Steven Seagal -- in all of his squinty-eyed, whisper-threat glory. But this isn't the chubby and tired Steven Seagal coasting on autopilot just to get a paycheck. This is good ol' days Steven Seagal when he was slim, fit, and still had that I'm-having-fun twinkle in his eyes, which makes a world of difference. Keith David is reliable as always and his electrifying personality does provide a nice contrast to Seagal's usual calm demeanor, while Tom Wright is somewhere in between the two and likable, even if he's really just there for political correctness purposes. Elizabeth Gracen is flat out terrible, though, but fortunately her screen time is minimal so I won't go off on a rant here. Also keep an eye out for bit parts by Kevin Dunn (best known as Mr. Witwicky) and the awesome Danny Trejo.
"Screwface gimme a t'ousand dets wurse dan yoo doo."
But action movies live and die by the strength of their villain, and 'Marked for Death' has stood the tests of time over the past twenty years thanks to the unforgettable Screwface. This psychotic creep named after a Bob Marley song is already the definition of "colorful" with his dreadlocks, multicolored knitted sweaters, and eerie green eyes, but Basil Wallace hams it up so much he steals every scene he's in and then some. Screwface isn't just the best baddie in Steven Seagal's entire filmography, he's one of the most iconic from the nineties -- and even has a music video to prove it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox brings 'Marked for Death' to high-definition on a BD-25 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. Surprisingly, the disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. The Blu-ray is also reported to be region-free.
Okay, so it was a safe bet that Fox wasn't going to be rolling out the red carpet treatment for an older catalog title like 'Marked for Death,' but this Blu-ray transfer is actually still respectable enough to keep most Steven Seagal fans happy.
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (2.35:1) encode is relatively clean, with only a few speckles here and there. The image is consistently soft throughout and there's a thin hazy layer of grain. The darker interior shots also reveal slight digital noise, but the exterior scenes look the best. Colors aren't as vivid as on newer releases, although I'd still say they're pretty decent, especially when we finally head to Jamaica. Black levels are mostly solid and contrast is stable, so the presentation often has some nice dimensionality. However, there's noticeable crushing and shadows can be overbearing in certain scenes. Facial features and fabrics really only exhibit fine detailing in close-ups, but flesh tones appear natural, if slightly reddish. And fortunately, there doesn't seem to be any problematic studio meddling with this transfer.
The default audio for 'Marked for Death' is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Again, there's nothing astounding here, but the track is likely the best we're ever going to get.
Dialogue is usually clear, and even Seagal's soft spoken lines are never drowned out by other noises. Screwface and some of the other Jamaican characters are difficult to understand sometimes, but in all fairness that has little to do with the quality of the soundtrack. The heavily-synthesized score by James Newton Howard and the various reggae tracks (Jimmy Cliff and his band even have brief cameos as themselves) also sound decent and have noticeable bleed to the rears. Surrounds aren't generally active, though, and directional movement is on a tight leash. Gunfire sounds stuffy, distant, and probably won't send viewers scrambling for cover. Low bass is alive and picks up for the nightclub scenes and the explosions. Just like the video, this audio presentation may never truly wow, but overall it's still is sufficient nonetheless.
The Blu-ray includes alternate Dolby Digital Surround tracks (English and French) as well as a Spanish Dolby Digital Mono mix. The disc also provides optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
One of the previous DVD releases had a trailer, but Fox has chosen not to include any supplements on this Blu-ray release.
'Marked for Death' may not be considered Steven Seagal's best picture, but with the excessive violence, over-the-top antics, and one doozy of a villain, it's definitely one of his most entertaining. This Blu-ray has slightly above average audio and video, however there are no supplements whatsoever. Even so, fans should still be pleased if they can find a tempting price. A guilty pleasure, indeed.