johnlink ranks MARKED FOR DEATH (1990)

MARKED FOR DEATH was not the apex of the Steven Seagal era, that would be UNDER SIEGE by any objective measure. But it is right in the middle of when he was one of the above-average action film stars. He never made it to the status of Sly or Arnie or Bruce. But he certainly held the top of that next tier with JCVD. Anyway, MARKED FOR DEATH was one of those I hadn’t seen until now.


I watched MARKED FOR DEATH (1990) on 6.21.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

This film opens up with Steven Seagal chasing Danny Trejo through the streets. At the time, Seagal was a pretty big star, able to headline movies that made some money. Danny Trejo was a nobody ex-con – so low on the totem pole that he doesn’t even get his name in the extensive opening credits. Interesting how the world of movie stardom can change over two and a half decades.

Trejo doesn’t survive long, and soon we are following Seagal (here he plays John Hatcher) through a retirement from the DEA and a homecoming. He tries to ignore the Jamaican cartel in his hometown for a good ten minutes or so, but soon his family gets involved and he has to fight them. His Hatcher is joined by Vietnam buddy Max (Keith David) as they fight the cartel led by voodoo follower Screwface (Basil Wallace).

Screwface is a decent villain. He uses trickery and murder to stay up in his perch, and MARKED FOR DEATH is careful to never give the voodoo bits much seriousness. Instead of being a movie about a villain with voodoo powers, it is a movie about a guy who’s belief gives him the mental strength to do whatever he wants, wether or not the voodoo is doing him any good. Because of this, the plot twist at the end is easy enough to sniff out a mile away, especially after the climactic fight scene is anything but.


There is plenty to mark this as a movie which was born as the 80s turned 90s. The soundtrack has Jimmy Cliff, some early rap, and plenty of leftover 80s synth. The shoes are high tops, the hair is long and permed. But the nice thing about this era of action, when done right, was that all of the fight scenes and chase scenes were practically done. There is a car chase in this thing which feels downright quaint, but it also feels legitimate rather than impossible and computer created. Seagal has absolutely had better action movies, more on that in a second, but the fights feel grounded in a realistic fighting style. While Arnold and Sly always felt like larger-than-life mountains pounding their way through things, Seagal truly felt like a guy who could do the stuff he was doing. All of the martial arts feel easy and fluid with him. Sometimes this results in making him feel invincible, but their are worse things.

The movie also goes out of its way to not be about a white guy beating up and killing a bunch of black guys. One of the sidekicks is African-American and the other is Jamaican. Despite being a movie about Jamaican drug dealers, it also takes a quick time out to visit Jamaica and give us an out-of-character scene in which the two sidekicks talk about the real struggles of the Jamaican people. For a movie which feels dated when guys carry weapons on planes, most every female is asked to appear topless, and a chase/shootout happen over the course of fifteen minutes with absolutely no police intervention, this is not a movie which can be accused as being insensitive to race issues.

Anyway, MARKED FOR DEATH is pretty good. Because Seagal has UNDER SIEGE, it will never be his best. UNDER SIEGE had a stronger plot, writing, directing, acting, action, and (most importantly) a far superior villain. So while that movie is still the standard bearer for Steven Seagal movies, MARKED FOR DEATH is absolutely one worth seeing.




FINAL SCORE: 5.5 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on June 21, 2015.

3 Responses to “johnlink ranks MARKED FOR DEATH (1990)”

  1. Great review. I really do miss the days of movies like this. I honestly think Under Siege was the best movie he was ever a part of, but I think Out for Justice was the best movie he carried by himself. The bar scene alone in that movie always stands out to me – and the scene in the meat shop. Classic Seagal.

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