Marked For Death [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (12th July 2010).
The Film

I’ve never understood why Steven Seagal had a film career, much less a successful following and fan base. Even in his prime (well, career-wise) back in 1990, at the ripe age of 39, he moves with the agility of a mannequin. I understand that he’s accomplished and respected (?) in the world of martial arts, but the trick to every Seagal film I’ve ever watched has always been in the editing room. Though he might move with the speed of an aging prizefighter, the damage he inflicts upon his foes is cut to look lightning-fast and tremendously brutal - but I’ve never been able to buy into it. Sure, I love watching some faceless thug get his elbow cracked backwards before being roundhouse kicked in the face and impaled on a conveniently-placed steel rod just as much as any other action film fan would (and should). My problem is that Seagal’s ability to convincingly kick ass on screen has never been an easy buy. Last year, I was subjected to “Driven to Kill” (2009), one of his many direct-to-video clunkers, and I explicitly pointed out how laughably bad his “choreographed” fight scenes looked. But I chalked some of that up to age. Unfortunately, here we are, almost 20 years earlier with “Marked for Death” (1990), and the man shows me why his moves looked so bad in that case - that IS how he moves.

Life with the DEA hasn’t been easy for John Hatcher (Steven Seagal), but things manage to get even worse when his partner is killed in action during a bust in Columbia. Tired of dealing with the scum of the streets, Hatcher decides to retire from the force and return to his old childhood town outside Chicago (which looks nothing like Southern California … wink, wink). But the homecoming turns bittersweet after Hatcher hooks up with his old high school football coach, Max (Keith David), who informs him that Jamaican drug dealers have taken over the town. This does not sit well with Hatcher, and he goes out on the warpath looking for information. He finds what he’s looking for, making an arrest along the way, but the Jamaicans exact revenge by shooting up his sister’s house and wounding his niece, Tracy (Danielle Harris). Now Hatcher is pissed, and he and Max team up to kick the ever-loving crap out of every dreadlocked Rastafarian with a doobie from here to Jamaica.

This film operates under a basic premise that almost every cinematic tough guy has had to weather: reclaiming their home turf. I can think of dozens of films where this plot has been employed, all with varying results. Even though it’s far from the pinnacle, I’ll admit that I did have fun with this one, though that might be because it was so ridiculous. I mean, Jamaican gangsters invading a sleepy Chicago suburb… that’s certainly a (somewhat) new concept. Even better, the main villain, Screwface (Basil Wallace), is heavily into using voodoo magic to smite his enemies, so the film does have a mild supernatural element at play. Not much time is wasted here, either. Once Seagal starts to get information on the gang, he bulldozes everyone is his path on his way up to the big man. And kudos for taking him and Max out of the city for a stretch to lay the smack down on Screwface’s crew at their own home turf in Jamaica. For all its unconvincing fight sequences and Seagal’s monotonous, sleepy-eyed acting, the film does a good job of keeping you guessing, literally right up to the final minutes.

I could probably write a book’s worth of bagging on Seagal, but he’s almost too easy of a target. “Marked for Death” was his third feature film, but I honestly don’t think he’s ever shown the slightest hint of maturity in regard to honing his craft as an actor. Aside from logging a few extra notches on the Steven Seagal Bloat-O-Meter (he’s at a 2 here, for those keeping track) over the years, there’s virtually nothing that would distinguish an early performance of his 20 years ago with one from 20 minutes ago. This is both a blessing and a curse. Critics can easily dismiss his films and deride him for failing to turn in a convincing performance… ever, but fans can revel in the overwhelming joy of knowing that every time they sit down to watch one of his films, they’re well aware of what to expect. Unless, of course, he’s rocking some terrible accent, something which has been known to happen more often than it should. Most martial artists who turn to acting, like Jean-Claude Van Damme or Chuck Norris, tend to utilize some kind of montage to show off their prowess in whichever discipline they have studied. Not ol’ Steve, though. He doesn’t do montages. Instead, we just get 90 minutes of him kicking everyone’s ass in the exact same style each and every time. If he didn’t mix things up with the occasional weapon, I’d swear they kept cutting the same fight scenes back into the film multiple times. Granted, he’s always been cognizant of the fact that a brutal, vicious beating can make up for a perceived lack of enthusiasm on his part when dishing it out, but the repetition begins to border on parody before the halfway mark.

There are also a few notable cast and crew members behind our ponytailed protagonist. The directing duties were handled by Dwight H. Little, who horror fans will know as the helmer of one of the better sequels in the Michael Myers saga, “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” (1988) - a film which also features a young Danielle Harris, who plays Seagal’s niece here. Little proves to be adept at keeping the film’s pace moving along with little lag time. The fight scenes in particular are handled well – he gets the camera right into the thick of the action without resorting to quick cuts or compromised shots. Supporting Seagal as a main player is Keith David, a man who is well known to genre fans for his work with John Carpenter in “The Thing” (1982) and “They Live” (1988), and for being the go-to guy if you need a tough talkin’, no b.s. actor to dish out some serious ass whoopin’. David has such a calm, cool demeanor when he speaks – his voice could help anyone go to sleep – which is in stark contrast to his ability to beat down street thugs effortlessly.

Video

The 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded picture looks much better than I was expecting. Fox has proven to be an inconsistent studio when it comes to their catalog transfers, but this looks to be one of their better efforts. The print looks clean and would be a noticeable improvement over the DVD, though I suspect that a minimal amount of DNR was used to help smooth things out a bit. A large portion of the film takes place either at night or in dark locales, and the picture has no problem rendering images with minimal lighting available. Daytime scenes, in particular, look robust and colorful. The image is fairly flat, though, so don’t expect much “pop” to leap off your screen. There is also an inherent softness to the film but, given the era during which it was filmed, I’d chalk this up to the film elements that were used rather than Fox meddling with the sharpness. This is far from what I call demo material, but fans of Seagal, or those who don’t own the film already, will be pleased with the results.

Audio

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit is exactly what you’d expect to hear from a Steven Seagal film in lossless audio. This is, after all, an action film built on the backbone of a wrung-dry plot, so each scene merely serves as a set-up for the next round of carnage and mayhem. So, naturally, you are completely drowned in a hail of bullets, punches to every appendage on the human body, explosions, sword fights and Seagal’s try-to-make-out-what-I’m-saying half-whispered dialogue. Unfortunately, just about all of it comes from your front and center speakers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there just isn’t much of a dynamic to the track. On the plus side, you’ll be so sonically assaulted from the front end and LFE that you likely won’t even care that this track lack the finesse of today’s more refined mixes. I wasn’t able to detect any hisses, pops or digital noise; it all sounded much like it must have back in theaters. Sort of like the film, and Seagal’s films in general – it isn’t impressive but it definitely does its best to get the job done.
Other audio options include English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, French Dolby Digital 2.0 surround and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 dual mono as well as subtitles in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Any bonus materials appear to have been “marked for death” on this release. Not even a single trailer.

Packaging

The single disc comes in the case collectors love to hate: the amaray eco-case.

Overall

This might be the best Seagal film I’ve seen, though I don’t know if that says much at all. I grew up on late 80's/early 90's action films, so I’m a bit more forgiving of them than most people might be. I think you could certainly do worse if you’re looking for a fun, mindless movie to toss on with the guys or if you’re in the mood for some lowbrow, testosterone-fueled fury. Fans of Seagal, however, should get this Blu-ray for the better-than-expected video and audio specs.

The Film: C+ Video: B- Audio: B- Extras: F Overall: C

 


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