Marked For Death is a bit of a quandary of a movie for me. It really isn’t that horrible of a movie. In fact it is just as watchable as Above The Law, albeit for entirely different reasons. Marked For Death is infinitely more violent though and it isn’t exactly like Above The Law was exactly some G Rated Disney film. Marked For Death is also a bit more easy to summarize, since the summary is “Steven Seagal fights drug dealing Jamaican posses”. It is an insanely fun movie to watch though, as it pretty much abandons the complex, yet at times, convoluted storytelling ofAbove The Law and Hard To Kill, opting for a more straightforward action movie story. It kinda makes you wish Steven Seagal lived in your suburb so he could beat the crap out of the drug dealing Jamaicans in it1.
This is not to say that Marked For Death is not convoluted. It is insanely crazily convoluted. I mean an ex-DEA agent gets sucked into a a drug war with the local Jamaican posse. Luckily he’s got the local High School football coach, Max, backing him up. Thank God the coach is played by Keith David, giving us at least one familiar character actor to carry this thing. Well since Seagal’s ex-DEA guy, the surprisingly average named John Hatcher2, is trying to clean-up his local Chicago suburb the Jamaicans mark him for… wait for it… DEATH!
The Jamaicans don’t play fair either, like the Mafia or Yakuza would. No sir, they don’t believe in civilians and go after Hatcher’s family too, including his wife played by Elizabeth Gracen before she became the go to romantic interest Amanda on Highlander: The Series3. The death mark in question is issued by the Jamaican Posse’s leader and chief Hougan/Witch Doctor, Screwface. Screwface has seemingly started a massive push to take control of the Chicago drug trade and now all that stands in his way is Seagal and Keith David. Along the way this erstwhile dynamic duo get intel from Charles, an ex-Jamaican Cop who now plies his trade in Chicago. Screwface and his posse have been Charles’ pet peeve stretching back nearly 5 years.
So n ow, Hatcher, Coach Max and Charles buy themselves a fuckton of guns and head for Jamaica to take out Screwface. The only person who can help them is one of Screwface’s girlfriends, who tells them how to find him but to be careful “For the Screwface has two heads and four eyes”. Along the way, Max has his views on Jamaican’s changed as Charles takes him on a tour of Kingston, Jamaica to show him the poverty there. Max had only viewed the people of Jamaica as either stoned Rastas or drug dealers, but when he sees the poverty firsthand he gets a better grasp of just how little there is in the way of work there and just how many are suffering. Screwface dealing drugs in Jamaica only makes matters worse, as it creates drug addicts that won’t work even if they had jobs.
Hatcher and his boys stage a daring raid of Screwface’s estate, all culminating in a big showdown between Hatcher and Screwface and one badass decapitation. Hatcher and company take Screwface’s head back to Chicago4 and march into the local Posse’s hangout to show them proof that Screwface is dead. This backfires as a seemingly intact Screwface murders Charles. Turns out Screwface is a set of identical twins who ran their drug empire collectively, thus giving the appearance that Screwface could be in 2 places at once. So we get Hatcher versus Screwface round 2, which ends exactly how you want ti to, with a punny quip from Hatcher5. Thus ends the saga of John Hatcher, thank God!
Make no mistake, Marked For Death is totally the big dumb action movie you think it is but thee is some subtle social commentary in there and not just in the parts filmed in Kingston. Jamaican’s were making aggressive moves into the American drug trade in the late 80 and early 90s. Most police forces were having to deal with the new Caribbean gangs like the Jamaicans and Haitians, who were far more ruthless than the Italian Mafia at the time. New York and Chicago both had Jamaican Posse problems, that slowly got curtailed6. American Cops had not seen such blatant disregard for the law and that level of violence7. The Jamaican Posses got off the streets for he most part and scaled back to mostly supplying.
The interesting part of this movie really is the 5 minutes that Charles, played by Tom Wright, breaks down the social and economic plights of what seemed to be most of Jamaica. Its a shame that this wasn’t delved into a bit more, but what is provided paints a very bleak fate for Jamaica and its citizens. There is far less law enforcement can do in Jamaica because the cops either don’t have the resources to stop the drug trafficking or are just plain corrupt. At least that was case in the late 1980s. It would be interesting to see either a sequel or remake of Marked For Death now, to see if the situation has gotten any better or much worse. Believe it or not this is neither the first nor last movie that Seagal made with something resembling a political message. Above The Law was the first one as it dealt with the CIA’s connection to drug trafficking. On Deadly Ground, well that is just one giant “Fuck the oil industry” movie mixed with “Man, the white man really fucked over the Native Americans” sentiment8. I’m sure there are a few other Seagal movies out there with hidden political subtext, but honestly is anyone watching his more recent stuff to care?
Marked For Death is a pretty fun movie overall. Its worth a watch on Netflix, hell it is even worth buying out of the under $3 bin at your local Wal-Mart. Part of me really would like to see a remastered Blu-Ray of this movie, complete with a Seagal commentary track. For some reason, I want to know this guy thinks. I mean maybe he is deeper than we give him credit for, what with his being a former incarnation of the Buddha and all. But really, I want to know about his thoughts on the political sub-text of this movie. Did he, the director and the screenwriter share the same views on the plight Jamaica and the drug trade? Well shit, now I really do want a deluxe edition DVD of this movie!
Of course none of the political sub-text is needed for Seagal’s next cinematic venture. A movie that borders somewhere between a parody of cop film and revenge movie, yet simultaneously is one of the most mean-spirited, violent movies I’ve ever watched.
1Not that this is really a huge problem where I live or anything. I mean I live in an urban area and I’ve yet to be hassled by drug dealing Jamaicans. Now drug dealing white kids who are trying to be the next Eminem? Those I got in spades!
2An average name compared to Hard To Kill’s insanely named Mason Storm
3Not that is a bad thing, since Amanda was pretty much the most entertaining recurring character on that show, just not entertaining enough to carry her own show.
6In no small part to the Russian Mob moving in and showing the Caribbean gangs what real ruthlessness was.
7Los Angeles might be the only exception to that, as LA was a completely different type of war on drugs than New York or Chicago. Crack was slowly taking over entire chunks of the LA ghetto one neighborhood at a time.
8I’m not saying the Native American didn’t get screwed, I’m just saying On Deadly Ground is really heavy handed about it, even more heavy handed than Billy Jack!