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‘Marked for Death’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 08, 1990

When a priest tells burned-out narcotics agent Steven Seagal to "try to find the gentle person inside yourself," you know it's going to take Seagal just a little longer to get around to breaking people's wrists, arms, legs, necks and backs (not to mention his first on-screen vasectomy/decapitation combo). As genre aficionados know, Seagal's specialty in the martial arts is the very audible breaking of bad-guy appendages, and "Marked for Death" has enough of that to make even a chiropractor wince.

Seagal plays a cop -- the name is irrelevant, since all of Seagal's characters are interchangeable: They favor black, wear ponytails, have large family infrastructures and resent the predictable situations scriptwriters put them in until they lose their cool and start punching and crunching (without ever raising their voice). This time around, Seagal resigns from the Drug Enforcement Administration after his undercover partner is killed and goes back to his hometown, only to find it at the mercy of a vicious Jamaican drug gang led by the evil Scarface. Seagal's old war buddy, now the high school football coach, complains that he's lost both his best player and his 13-year-old nephew to overdoses; soon, Seagal's family is attacked and his prize Mustang is totaled. You don't have to be Albert Einstein to figure out that they'll be teaming up to try to wipe out the gang.

The dreaded dreadlocked gang and its leader (the scary Paul Wallace) have obviously seen the Al Pacino "Scarface" all too many times, and they act it out energetically, with an added twist involving the leader's special powers in black magic (Scarface "have two heads and four eyes," which any mystery buff will figure out in two seconds).

This allows director Dwight H. Little to engage in some hokum spook'em that is not going to do much for the image of Jamaicans in general, and dreadlocked ones in particular. Many filmmakers tend to accent either racial or ethnic stereotypes -- Little does both.

Between the gang's patois and Seagal's soft speaking, "Marked for Death" almost begs for subtitles; the breaking of bones, however, comes through loud and clear. So does the odor of violent death and money. That's what this film is about, and one suspects it will be the highest grossing new film of the week.

"Marked for Death" is rated R and contains explicit language and graphic gore.

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