Film review: Marked for Death

Published: Saturday, Oct. 13 1990 12:00 a.m. MDT

The two previous action pictures starring martial-arts champ Steven Seagal were no great shakes, but they did have a certain panache that propelled them beyond the absurdities of their scripts — the result being that Seagal has been steadily building an audience that seems a bit larger than those that follow the kick-'em-up antics of Chuck Norris or Jean Claude Van Damme.

With "Marked for Death," however, Seagal tosses aside any pretense at style and heads full throttle into exploitation. This film contains loads of gore and nudity that seem to be here for no reason other than to please rowdy moviegoers who are unable to distinguish between action pictures that tell a story and those that simply pour on the thrills without rhyme or reason.

And Seagal deserves some real blame for this lapse in taste as a co-producer of "Marked for Death."

This time around Seagal plays Hatcher, a "trouble-shooter" for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, who gets special joy out of smashing the heads of bad guys into glass display cases (the glass-smashing champ this year is "Another 48HRS.," but this film is a close second) and by snapping the bones in their arms, hands, necks — and eventually one guy's back. He also gets to gouge out someone's eyes.

But Hatcher's had enough of this rough-and-tumble life of busting drug dealers. So he retires and goes home to his family, staying at his sister's house in Lincoln Heights, Ill. Unfortunately, Jamaican drug dealers called "posses" have invaded his neighborhood, and soon his niece is in the hospital after a shootout, and later his sister is almost killed in a voodoo ritual.

Naturally, Hatcher declares war on the chief bad guy, a dread-locked Jamaican voodoo priest called Screwface (Basil Wallace), a nickname that apparently means "outrageous overacting."

Soon any pretense at logic is thrown out the window — right through the glass, of course — and Hatcher, with the local high school football coach (Keith David), an old Vietnam buddy, is soon kicking in faces and chopping off heads. (David doesn't have a lot to do, but Joanna Pacula has even less, her romantic diversion apparently left on the cutting-room floor.)

So why aren't Hatcher and friends indicted for all the property damage they cause or the body count that piles up? And how did they get their cache of automatic weapons from Illinois to Jamaica by plane without being detected?

Seagal has a Clint Eastwood stoicism about him that fans seem to enjoy, and despite the three different characters he's played in as many films, each dresses in Oriental black bathrobes and wears a ponytail.

But "Marked for Death" is strictly for his die-hard fans, who will doubtless make it a big hit.

It is rated R for extreme violence and gore, profanity, several scenes of female nudity, drug abuse and implied sex.