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Marked For Death
There's a certain comfort to be taken in the predictability of a goofy action movie, and they don't get too much goofier than the films of Steven Seagal. While it's easy to rag on him these days, what with his increasingly bizarre series of direct to video films and his stint cleaning up the streets of Louisiana in A&E's Steven Seagal: Lawman, there was a time when his name meant box office gold. Films like Out For Justice, Above The Law and Under Siege still hold a special place in the hearts of action movie fans around the world, and while Marked For Death isn't on par with those two undisputed classics, it's not so far off.
In the film Seagal, still in good shape here and sporting his trademark ponytail, plays John Hatcher, a DEA agent who decides to leave that life behind him and relocate back to his home town of Lincoln Heights, Illinois. When he gets back home, he heads to the local school to visit his old friend Max (Keith David) who works there as a coach. This is the same school his niece, Tracey (a young Danielle Harris), attends so imagine Hatcher's horror when he finds out that drug dealers are hanging around and preying on the populace. It's not long before poor little Tracey gets hurt in some of the chaos that ensues during a squabble with some Jamaican drug dealers and before you know it, Hatcher and Max are out for revenge.
The pair of would be crime fighters team up with a DEA agent named Charles (Tom Wright) and try to get to the root of the drug problem in the city. Their search leads them to a man known only as Screwface (Basil Wallace), a psychotic drug kingpin whose knowledge of voodoo and sadistic personality may be more than our heroes can handle.
About as straightforward as a movie can get, Marked For Death doesn't waste much time setting up its plot and giving Seagal and David a chance to head out into the underbelly of the criminal world and kick some ass. What sets this film apart from Seagal's other, very similar entries is the voodoo angle, which does at least partially add a bit of a horror movie angle to the movie. It's not an angle that's really exploited as well as it could have been, but it's there and it does make a difference, particularly during the film's climactic ending. The violence in the film hits fairly hard and gets fairly bloody in spots. Like the best of Seagal's output, there's a therapeutic satisfaction that can be taken from watching him smash a bad guy's face through a glass jewelry display box or break a few arms on his quest for revenge. It's about as realistic as a comic book, but it's fun to watch.
Seagal himself is in fine form here. He's lean and mean and while his acting is no better or worse than any of his other pictures, he moves fast and you can believe that the guy is dangerous (as opposed to some of his later films where his portly self hides in the shadows and stunt doubles do all of the actual work - a trend that thankfully seems to have diminished in the last year, much to his fans' delight). His chemistry with Keith David isn't bad, and while they're not the most likely pair of old pals you've ever seen on screen, they're not a bad pair. David, no stranger to action films himself (and co-winner of the 'best fight ever' award for his famous alley scene with Roddy Piper from They Live) isn't given as much to do as Seagal is, and this is very definitely Steven's film from start to finish, but he holds his own and has a few good lines to boot.
If you go into this one with your expectations in check and accept the film for what it is - a simple tale of a burnt out cop teaming up with his old pal to fight voodoo-rasta dope peddlers in Illinois - it's easy enough to enjoy. It may not be all that smart, creative or original but it delivers enough action and excitement to serve as a rock solid hour and a half of ultraviolent entertainment.The DVD:
Marked For Death looks decent in its high definition debut by way of the AVC encoded 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc. Some scenes do look soft and black levels are rarely all that great but detail and texture are both definitely improved over the standard definition release. There are no problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement nor is there any evidence of digital scrubbing, which means that the film's grain structure is still intact. While some might see this as a detriment, it works in the context of the movie's tone. Some mild spots of minor print damage are noticeable and a fair bit of the film's principal photography leans towards the soft side. This isn't a transfer that will know you out of your boots, but those familiar with the film will definitely notice the increased detail and texture and appreciate the more lifelike color reproduction.Sound:
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is pretty front heavy but does spread out the effects to the rear part of the soundscape periodically to remind you that you are listening to a 5.1 mix. You'll notice the score coming at you from a few different directions throughout the movie and some nice ambient noise here and there but the vast majority of what happens you'll hear taking place in front of you. Bass response is okay but never all that impressive nor as strong as you might want from an action film, but on the flip side, there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion, dialogue is quite clear and everything is well balanced and free of any serious defects.
An optional English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track is also included on the disc as are Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks in French and Spanish. Subtitles are provided in English SDH and in Spanish.Extras:
The Blu-ray release of Marked For Death is actually a step down from the standard definition release, which is saying something because that disc only had a theatrical trailer in the extras department. So if the trailer is gone, what does that leave on the Blu-ray disc? Nothing. There's a static menu and chapter selection and that's it. This is basically about as barebones as they come. Now this maybe didn't warrant a super deluxe release, but seeing the trailer included would have been a nice touch and would it really be all that hard to get Seagal to do an interview or a commentary?
Die-hard fans will appreciate the upgrade in the audio and video departments, but really, no trailer? Not a single extra? Marked For Death may not be a masterpiece but it deserved at least a little more love than that. The film itself holds up well for what it is - a goofy action film ripe with the kind of clichés and gratuitous violence that Seagal's fanbase craves. It's pretty entertaining stuff if you don't need to take it too seriously and while some might say it's a guilty pleasure, it's still a pleasure. Recommended for Seagal completists, a solid rental for everyone else simply due to the barebones nature of the disc.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.