Fox // 1990 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // May 19th, 2010
He's a good cop in a bad mood.
One of the best titles in Steven Seagal's extensive catalogue gets an HD upgrade. Will we finally be able to count the strands of hair in his ponytail?
Seagal stars as DEA Agent John Hatcher (a good cop in a bad mood), who returns home to take some time off in Chicago after his partner is killed on assignment. When he arrives, however, he finds his neighborhood being terrorized by a Jamaican drug gang led by a man calling himself Screwface (Basil Wallace, Rapid Fire). When his sister and niece (Danielle Harris, Halloween II (2009)) are victimized, Hatcher has no choice but to team up with his friend and fellow concerned citizen Max (Keith David, All About Steve) to take down Screwface and his gang themselves.
In the early days of Steven Seagal's career, there was a fun game you could play with the titles to all of his movies: they all seemed to be named with the idea that you could put the words "Steven Seagal IS..." in front of them on the posters. Let's try it.
"Steven Seagal IS...Above the Law!"
"Steven Seagal IS...Hard to Kill!"
"Steven Seagal IS...Out for Justice!"
"Steven Seagal IS...Under Siege!"
"Steven Seagal IS...On Deadly Ground!"
Eventually, the game stopped working when Seagal started appearing in movies like Executive Decision or Exit Wounds or The Glimmer Man (unless Steven Seagal IS the Glimmer Man, in which case it still holds. But I've seen that movie, and for the life of me I can't remember who the Glimmer Man is). But the rule still holds for 1990's Marked for Death (Steven Seagal IS...), the movie that finds the pony-tail'd one at the height of his powers. His movies were still being released theatrically. The world still paid attention to him in an unironic way. He was a full-blow movie star. And though Marked for Death is hardly Seagal's best movie (that would be Under Siege; it's a miracle what having a real director, a good concept -- even if it is just Die Hard on a boat -- and some A-list actors playing villains can do), it is probably his most Steven Seagal-iest.
Yes, Marked for Death contains much gratuitous bone-snapping, even more gratuitous ponytail, and is about as stupid as action movies come, which is precisely the reason I kind of enjoy it. There's an expectation level one has when watching a Seagal actioner, and Marked for Death meets every one of those expectations. There's a purity in that which I find missing in many slicker or more ambitious action movies. Say what you will about Marked for Death -- it doesn't pretend to be anything but what it is.
So exactly what is it, you say? It's Steven Seagal breaking the bones of a bunch of Jamaicans. See, this was 1990, when American film audiences still didn't understand Jamaicans (that wouldn't happen until Cool Runnings in 1993), so we were perfectly willing to accept them as murderous, voodoo-worshipping drug runners (see also: Predator 2) who call everyone "bloodclot." I never realized they were saying "bloodclot" until I was able to activate the subtitles on this Blu-ray; such is the wonder of new technology. Marked for Death is also supposed to take place in Chicago, but I've lived here my whole life and didn't recognize any of it -- particularly the parts that are overrun with Jamaican drug gangs. It's generically directed by Dwight H. Little, who is not great at staging action (though he did direct the underrated Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers) but who knows enough to stay out of Seagal's way while he squints and struts and whispers and beats all kinds of ass.
One more thing about Marked for Death: the final bad guy death is hilariously abrupt, until a twist comes that makes it even more hilarious. After that is another bad guy death that rivals only Con Air for the amount of punishment it doles out and the sheer number of ways it finds to kill the same person.
The Blu-ray of Marked for Death from Fox is nothing special, even for a catalogue title. The film is presented in a 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer in its original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The movie looks decent overall, with a good amount of detail and a thin layer of grain for cinema purists (the cinema purists who traffic in Steven Seagal films). Skin tones tend to run a little on the reddish-orange side (the photography as a whole leans this way), black levels aren't as deep as they could be and the image is on the soft side occasionally, though some of those issues are likely more a result of the source material and not a transfer issue. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track carries a decent amount of punch as action movies go and features a fair share of immersive surround moments, but is far from reference grade. There are no special features -- not even a trailer.
If you've already got Marked for Death on DVD, there's really no reason to upgrade to the Blu-ray. With decent-at-best technical specs and zero special features, you won't be missing out on much.
The movie offers nothing new, which I like; the Blu-ray offers nothing new, which I don't.
Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R