'Marked for Death' has a couple twists

October 08, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Marked for Death" is pretty standard-issue vigilante stuff, but for two new wrinkles that marginally boost its interest.

First, it stars the world's toughest geek, Steven Seagal, the martial arts instructor that a powerful agent turned into an overnight movie star. Seagal looks like an Italian gigolo but hits like a middle linebacker. A master at aikido, he's the one action star in movies today who really looks scary, as opposed to showy. If you see him coming, better step aside; a lot of men didn't and a lot of men died.

Then, there're the villains. The film chooses to use the terrifying phenomenon of the Jamaican posse as its font of evil, conjuring up a legion of Rastafarians with AK-47s, Belafonte-deep accents and bad attitudes. (The movie goes to great lengths to avoid showing a white guy doing nothing but killing black guys for an hour and a half by teaming Seagal with Keith David, so a black guy gets to kill some black guys.)

Alas, there's the plot. Seagal plays an ex-DEA agent who stresses out and decides to move to the 'burbs. The drug dealers are already there -- the conceit of the piece is that America is one large pharmaceutical wonderland from sea to shining sea -- and very quickly Seagal is at war with them.

It becomes one of those tit-for-tat revenge things, or whack-for-blast revenge things; they shoot up his family's house; he crunches a dozen bones; they terrorize his sister; he kills two dozen of them, and on and on and on. The movie isn't exactly Surprises-R-Us.

The director, Dwight Little, punctuates the nonsense with several excellent action sequences, most notably one in which Seagal plays snap-the-wishbone with a variety of thugs in the men's department of a very expensive Chicago department store, after one of the longest car chases in history.

The problem is that the action doesn't accelerate; it just gets longer. The final few fights are probably the least compelling (a problem in Seagal's other two movies, too.) Still, the languid, whispery and deadly Seagal's a hoot.

'Marked for Death'

Starring Steven Seagal.

Directed by Dwight Little.

Released by 20th-Century-Fox.

Rated R


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