Marked For Death (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo & Samuel Scott (11th April 2014).
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

Twentieth Century Fox have released the Steven Seagal vehicle "Marked for Death" onto Blu-ray in the United Kingdom using the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The transfer is 1080p, and uses an AVC MPEG-4 encode.

A reasonable proportion of the movie takes place in dark environments, or at night, so the level of detail found here is reasonably pleasing. Although shadow detail is sometimes lacking a little, background items, and darkened areas such as the hotel room where Seagal kicks two hookers out before doing what he does best, show a good level of consistent clarity. At times, faces can appear a little too clean, so it is possible that there is some minor digital noise reduction in play, but it's not used to a level where you'll be taken aback. Colours are suitable, especially darker shades, but when lighter colours are used, they never really pop and lack depth, with an often soft feel to them. Some crushing is also noticeable in a couple of scenes. A thin layer of natural grain runs throughout the feature, but some of the darker interior shots do exhibit some minor noise. There are no obvious signs of damage such as scratches, or other unsightly blemishes. It's an overall good transfer, if unimpressive.

The disc is region free, and the film runs 93:18.

Audio

Despite the cover mention a single track, the following options are available:
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
- French Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
- Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Dual Mono

For my viewing, I obviously opted for the lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which, like the transfer, was certainly good, but could have been better. The main problem with this track is it never quite reaches its potential by not opening up fully. The majority of the channel separation takes place in the front, with surrounds used sparingly in comparison. The LFE gets a reasonable workout with several low-end rumblings, but despite several big action scenes, never quite elevates to the occasion as much as it could. The track is essentially a 2.0 track which has been conservatively remixed into 5.1 as far as I can tell. There are no issues with the track such as scratches or drop outs, and no background hiss. It's a competent track that is above average for an early 90s catalogue title.

The case only mentions English HoH subtitles, but there are also subtitles in Spanish.

Extras

Not a bean.

Overall

Film reviewed by Anthony Arrigo.
A/V and extras reviewed by Samuel Scott.

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

 


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