Monday, March 23, 2009

Steven Seagal Month, Week Three : Marked for Death

The rise of Steven Seagal continues this week with Marked for Death. After doubling the box office of Above the Law with Hard to Kill, could Captain Squinty keep the trend going with a third hit? Let's find out.

Well, the movie sure wastes no time as we open with our hero, John Hatcher, chasing Danny Trejo (!!!!) through some South American marketplace. Anything with Danny Trejo is instant win, so this is easily the best opening Seagal has yet had. Seagal plays it rough, too, as upon capturing the man he violently interrogates him and then gags him and throws him in the trunk of a car. Wow, it's like the Samoa Joe school of being a babyface or something. After an impromptu strip club stopoff, Hatcher and his partner, Chico (!), head off to a big drug meeting of some sort to, drugs. Too bad they've gone to Danny Trejo's outfit, who are none too pleased with the way their compadre has been treated. How Danny got out of the trunk and told them what happened and who did it is just unexplained. The drug runners pull guns and in a moment I can't figure out, one of them shoots one of his own pals (!?) and then starts threatening Hatcher. Why'd you shoot your own man? It's so random and it happens so fast that it makes less than no sense. But we don't have time to linger on that as Hatcher quickly nabs a machete from one of the goons and choppy choppies the gunmens' hands off so he and Chico can make an exit stage left.

Along the way out of the compound, they senselessly decide to sweep every room (yeah, slow that getaway down to a halt) and at one point Chico wanders in on a naked woman. Being an idiot, Chico turns to leave and she gives him a few bullets to the chest for his stupidity. And then Hatcher kills her with a few of his own. So we've had the partner mortally wounded and avenged all in the opening ten minutes. Well, there goes that plot point. What is it with Seagal screwing up the dead partner/out for revenge thing? Anyway, after a jarring jump all the way to Chicago (as a title card informs us), Hatcher finds himself in church confessing his sins and admitting that in trying to bring down the bad guys, he became one of the bad guys himself. Ultimately, he decides he just has to give it all up and retire. Following the priest's advice, Hatcher goes home to see his family on what coincidentally happens to be family reunion day so the gang's all here.

Things get insanely dull as Hatcher looks around his childhood bedroom (inexplicably containing a wall-mounted gun collection) and then sets about cleaning said guns all while a tune that sounds like a soundtrack cue from from The Land Before Time plays in the background. You know that one scene when Little Foot mistakes his big shadow for his mother? Yeah, that song. And, hey, speaking of childhood memories, let's go visit the old Alma mater and see the high school football team in action. Hatcher reminisces a little with the coach (Keith David, from Dead Presidents) and then the two decide to head off to catch up. As they leave, they spot some scary black men (with the worst Jamaican accents) selling dope to kids behind the school, but Hatcher actually prevents coach from intervening. Why? Dunno. The movie doesn't have time to explain that as it's quickly off to that night when said scary black men arrange a meeting between their “mon” and some...I dunno, Afrikaners? I can't figure these guys out. They look Italian at first glance, but in close ups their leader's eye shape suggests something Asian, but he has a weird African accent. What the fuck is this man? Anyway, the man with no country meets the Jamaican drug lord known as Screwface. Gee, could that be a lame Scarface rip-off I sense? This Screwface looks like a cross between Milli Vanilli and a reject from Battlefield Earth with his unruly dreads and weird green eyes.

Terl you know it's true...

I would tell you what these men talk about but I can't decipher their fucking accents. The scene ends on a spooky note, I guess, when Screwface tells the other man that he can do bad things (I think that's what he said), and a shadowy clone of Screwface wanders through a nearby doorway cackling. Dun dun dun! Our ethnically-ambiguous friend later visits a psychic or witch or something who divines that Screwface is “muy malo” (no shit!?), and that some sort of spell ought to help. Said spell involves random nudity, a rooster, regurgitation, cigar smoking, and finally the death of the rooster. Voodoo is strange. But I guess it works, as Screwface is suddenly awakened from his slumber with a look of...fear...consternation...confusion...something on his face.

Hatcher and coach talk about how things have changed, how you used to only have to worry about your quarterback knocking some girl up, but now you have to worry about him OD'ing on cocaine. And then they go to a bar to PAR-TAY~! Appropriate response to the subject matter, for sure. Trouble sure has a way of finding Hatcher, though, as our ethnically ambiguous friend sends in some goons to take him out. Before the inevitable fight scene, though, we get some exposition from coach, who spots the Jamaicans again and goes on a ramble about his thirteen year old nephew dying in a crack house and yadda yadda. Hatcher just tells him to leave it alone again.

Oooh, twist! The goons start scoping the place out to make their move, only to be gunned down by some Jamaicans who bust in. Honestly didn't see that coming. I'd be tempted to suggest we have a “race war” plot going on, but then again they may all be the same race. Seriously what is that guy, A Jamasian or something? The Jamaicans flee after taking a few guys out, but the dealer that coach keeps spotting is left behind to finish off the last of them. Hatcher steps in to stop it, of course, and receives what I assume are threats for his trouble. The Jamaican dude said something like “Wally bonker dahhhhh. Did mik warking”. I think that last part was supposed to be “dead man walking”. Hatcher pistol whips him.

As the cops and EMTs clean up the bar, the movie takes the chance to have some Connie Chung knock off do a live news report explaining how Jamaican gangs “or posses” operate. In a word: Violently. Very violently. Still takes her two or three minutes to spit this out. Some feds arrive on the scene, including Hatcher's old pal Rosselli. Explaining what went down, Hatcher finally pins down our ethnically ambiguous friend as a Colombian (really?). Elsewhere, it seems Screwface's spidey-sense is strong, as he has located the voodoo priestess who cast the spell on him, and he promptly chops her head off.

Aw, Jeez. We now get a scene with nothing but Jamaicans in it as our recurring dealer (name please? Christ, Steven what is your problem with names?) addresses a group and I have no idea what is being said, what they are doing or what they are planning. It's just a lot of “Ooha Ooha. Wally didlle bee boo bah! Ahny jumbo ly! Povidah monkey now” and all that other indecipherable shit. I wonder if the closed captions on a TV broadcast would just say “[Jamaican bullshit]” every time these guys talk. And look, I'm not just saying this about their accents because I'm a racist bastard. That is part of it, but I also legitimately have no clue what these people are saying. None. They may be speaking in Swahili for all I know. What's really annoying is that Screwface shows up and I just know they're saying stuff that's important to the plot, but I can't make out a word of it. That's bad.

The following day, tragedy strikes when Hatcher visits his sister, only to have the house shot up by that same fucking Jamaican dealer. Are there only two Jamaicans with significant roles in this movie or what? It's either this guy or Screwface. Monotony, thy name is Marked for Death. Hatcher's little niece gets shot, and we get this really weird cut from Hatcher getting angry and jumping to his feet like he's going to rush outside and avenge her, to Hatcher calmly standing in the hospital awaiting the doctor's report. What happened in the meantime, there? Did he angrily drive the car to the hospital? Did he angrily call 911 and demand a “fucking ambulance”? Did he just have the taco shits? What was that face all about? And he got really calm. He's politely whispering to the doctor so as not to disturb other patients. It's the most jarring cut I've seen in a long time. Anyway, the little girl is in serious and unstable condition, and Hatcher demands she be treated “like the President of the United States”. What exactly gives him stroke over the doctor, I don't know, but ol doc whatshisname complies. And then we get out first Oscar clip of the night as Hatcher's sister breaks down and blames her daughter's near-death on him. HOW DARE YOU VISIT YOUR FAMILY UNAWARE OF ANGRY NEGROES TAILING YOU! I know distraught people say illogical things, but seriously, this is way up there. All Hatcher's done so far in the movie is retire, go drinking, and drop by to see his sister.

Suddenly, Hatcher gets angry again and marches right out of the hospital, with Coach inexplicably at his side. It's so random: one moment, Hatcher is walking alone and then Coach pops up and starts walking alongside him. Like they're partner cops or something, you know? Why? Is Coach going to get a gun and join Hatcher's quest for revenge? At least Hatcher is a cop. And then, just to add to the confusion, the movie immediately cuts to Hatcher busting in on a crook named Jimmy Fingers, and Coach is nowhere to be seen. Where'd he go? Did he just walk Hatcher to the exit? This scene is notable for finally naming our Jamaican friend. His name is Monkey. No, really. They had the balls to name a black guy Monkey. This could only be more racist if they named him Remus and gave him a nephew. Jimmy Fingers is a gun runner who apparently bailed Monkey out of prison and sold him the machine guns that wounded Hatcher's niece, and now Hatcher wants to know where that damn, Monkey is. Jimmy pulls a gun and howls “I'm Jimmy Fucking Fingers, and I'm a made man!”. Hatcher puts a bullet through his brain and mutters “God made men”. OK, apparently Steven Seagal doesn't know what a “made man” is. Jimmy's Jamaican pal #1 on the left pops in to get his ass whipped into submission, but when Hatcher asks for Screwface's location, the thug throws himself out a window and kills himself rather than suffer the “fousan def” Screwface gives to squealers. I knew what he said that time, we're improving!

Screwface, hearing of Jimmy's death, finally learns to enunciate as he demands that Hatcher and his family be executed. Of course, I have no idea why he was so attached to Jimmy Fingers that he would want such revenge, but I'll just take the ability to understand what Screwface is saying and not look the gift horse in the mouth. Hatcher returns to his sister's house only to find it tagged with a crucifix with screw threads and the Idiogram, some wacky voodoo symbol that is supposed to be Screwface's calling card. He heads off to visit Leslie (Joanna Pacula, from Warlock: the Armageddon and Dinocroc!!!), a cop lady of some sort who was at the bar and first identified the Idiogram which I guess makes her our expert symbologist. Leslie explains that the markings on the house mean that the family has been MARKED FOR DEATH. Hatcher excuses himself to call his sister, WHO IS IN THE MARKED HOUSE and ask if the guards are still there. Turns out they aren't and then the phone goes dead. Dun dun dun! A Jamaican thug busts in and the struggle is on! Too bad for sis, she winds up in the clutches of Screwface himself, who inexplicably tells her to “stop the blood clot crying”. Yes, that is what he actually said. Okayyyy... Turns out Screwie has the living room set up for some voodoo ritual that likely involves human sacrifice. Hatcher hauls ass over there, and bursts in only to find that Screwface and crew have fled and left his sister alive for now.

Like any concerned brother would, Hatcher spends the next day ignoring his family and hanging with Coach, looking for Jamaican pushers to bust. They find one, but wind up in a car chase that is actually kinda boring until they crash into Tiffany's and Co and send the Holly Golightlys of the world running for cover. I love seeing rich white folk being terrorized. Once the bullets run out (and it takes a while), we finally get to see Seagal doing that Aikido martial arts shit of his as he sends thugs a-flyin' about the store. All told, Hatcher and Coach take out seemingly two dozen Jamaicans (what, were they driving a clown car? Where'd all those guys come from?), but accomplish nothing when you really think about it. This had nothing to do with the plot, unless we're supposed to assume that every Jamaican is affiliated with Screwface. And I guess they are, as Hatcher finds himself ambushed on the road, where a truck and a backhoe pin his car and crush it so as to trap him so that Screwface can toss in a molotov cocktail. Really? No voodoo this time? Lame. Hatcher gets out (duh) and takes Coach to meet Charles, a Jamaican cop who's been working with Rosselli. Sadly, Charles hasn't yet learned to enunciate. He (sorta) says that Screwface has returned to Jamaica and, after a weapons-collecting montage, our heroes are off to Jamaica. How they snuck all those guns through customs I know not. They just did. And we're talking machine guns and Uzis and shit.

In Jamaica, Coach and Charles get a lead on Screwface's girlfriend who apparently likes to hang out at a club. This club, by the way, is hosting a Jimmy Cliff concert. Jimmy Cliff being, of course, a legendary reggae musician and the badass star of
The Harder They Come. Jimmy is, in all seriousness, singing the ballad of Screwface who's “time has come, you gonna ded tonight”. Screwface's girl is happy to dance to this tune. Hatcher probes the girl for some info but all she has to say is that Screwface has two heads and four eyes, which is the secret to his magic. Magic doesn't seem to do him much good, though, as Hatcher and friends manage to crash Screwface's party, sniping the guards from afar and then stealthily moving in to detonate a bomb and wipe out the posse in the chaos. While Coach and Charles gun down a seemingly endless barrage of goons outside, Hatcher sneaks into the building to go one on one with Screwface, but no such luck as guards take Hatcher down and set him up for one of Scewface's voodoo rituals. Hatcher gets loose, of course, and takes on the guards in only the second hand-to-hand battle of the film, which provides us the obligatory Neck Crank of Death for the evening. With that out of the way, Hatcher faces Screwface man to man in an exceedingly brief fight that ends in ten seconds when Hatcher steals Screwface's sword and lops his head off.

What, that's it? There's thirteen minutes left in the movie and we just killed the villain? The fuck? Hatcher and crew go back to Chicago...I think...and tell the other Jamaicans that Screwface is dead and they better leave, or else they'll be dead too. Charles even holds up Screwface's head!

How do you get that past customs!?

Things get really weird as the heroes back out of the room, only for Charles to be stabbed in the back by...SCREWFACE. Whaaaaaaatttttttt?! Maybe there's something to this voodoo shit after all! Hatcher chases Screwface upstairs (taking out some generic thugs along the way, of course) while Coach stays behind to hold off the other Jamaicans downstairs. Finally, Hatcher catches up to Screwface who admits that he was really a pair of identical twin brothers all along. Well fuck that voodoo crap all over. Hatcher and Screwface number two have a big ol' sword fight which, shockingly, Hatcher is largely on the losing side of until he PUTS HIS THUMBS THROUGH SCREWFACE'S EYES, throws him through a wall, snaps his spine over his knee, and tosses him down an elevator shaft. Jesus Christ, you killed him four different ways before he hit the floor! That's just sadistic. And that's all she wrote, folks.

This movie sucks. The voodoo conceit is stupid, half the cast is indecipherable, and worst of all it's boring. There's a lot of nothing in the first half, and the second half is so loaded with gun fights and so lacking in hand-to-hand combat that there's really no tension at all. Seagal and his pals have uzis and the bad guys have hand guns, it's a no-contest from the start! Who cares, then? I mean, yeah, I know Seagal never loses the hand-to-hand fights either, but at least those offer him the chance to kill guys in innovative ways. But even that doesn't happen here, as the limited amount of time devoted to said fights only allows Seagal enough time to do the same shit he always does: the Neck Crank of Death, bending a guy's arm backwards, and tossing a bunch of guys over tables. That's supposed to lead up to the innovative kills, but here it's all we get! That's lame! And the acting is terrible! Seagal does this awful accent – what accent it's supposed to be I don't know – that totally distracts in every scene. And the guy playing Screwface is so over the top absurdly evil it's hilarious. It's like he's parodying himself. And then there's the utter cruelty of the final fight. Yeah, I get it that Screwface is a bad mother and all, but he was basically tortured to death in a most cruel fashion. The only thing that saves his death from being unwatchably awful is the fact that Seagal is rather obviously mangling a crash test dummy in dreads and not an actual actor. This is the one time bad special effects work actually made a scene watchable.

This movie is AWFUL. Awful, awful, awful.

All told, it was a success though, taking in $57 million worldwide at the box office and $20 million more in rentals. But that doesn't mean it wasn't shit!

Ugh. Tune in next week for Out For Justice, which had damn well better be good!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This movie was supposed to be in Chi-town right? Well geographically speaking, if you know your cities, it was all Los Angeles when you see palm trees and mountains. Chicago does not have palm trees or mountains. Also, I know both of the places and non of that shit was filmed in chi-town!!