The first thing you must understand about Steven Seagal’s Marked for Death is that Steven Seagal grifted his movie career into existence by giving one of Hollywood’s most powerful agents a karate lesson.
The second thing you must understand about Steven Seagal’s Marked for Death is that it features no martial arts whatsoever.
The final thing you must understand about Steven Seagal’s Marked for Death is that it is a remarkable showcase of the worst clothing ever made, all of which is worn by Steven Seagal.
To the first point – Steven Seagal is a fake martial artist who forced audiences to agree he was an action star by blunt force. He released so many movies between 1988 and 1992 that the world bent to his will, lest it be subjected to an even more rapid release schedule. Indeed, Marked for Death and Hard to Kill burst unbidden into theaters within the same eight month period of 1990, a year in which the fourth highest-grossing film was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which features more martial arts action than the entirety of Steven Seagal’s filmography. However, Steven Seagal eats way more pizza.
To the second point – Despite being an action star and self-described expert of aikido, a vaguely-defined martial art that seems to be more about chill vibes than performing decapitating tornado kicks, Steven Seagal tries as hard as he can to move as little as possible in every single one of his movies. He has less mobility as a 37-year-old karate DEA agent in Marked for Death than a sculpture of Steven Seagal in a Serbian wax museum. Watching a Steven Seagal movie for the action scenes is like watching an erotic thriller on Nickelodeon – the good parts never come and you are too bored to call the police.
To the third point – Steven Seagal wears a selection of outfits in Marked for Death that can only have been assembled from his own shallow closet. No other human being would choose these clothes for him. He personally selected each garment to accurately reflect his inner aikido master. They are the clothes of a dipshit, a man-child who has spent several thousand dollars on infomercial throwing stars.
As an exploration of the second and third points, I am going to take you through the major scenes of Marked for Death with an eye towards Steven Seagal’s unique talent of deflating every room with his baffling acting choices and unshakeable defiance in the face of doing any actual karate, and his tremendous array of douchebag costumes, which he 100% brought from home. I will be grading these things on a scale of 1 to 5 Tiger Manfaces, a metric that will make absolutely no sense until it suddenly does.
Marked for Death combines Steven Seagal’s two biggest loves – pretending to know martial arts and being extremely racist. The movie succeeds so well at that second thing that a message appears during the end credits, explaining to the audience that not all Jamaican people are murderous, drug-dealing sorcerers.
Straight out of the gate, we’re hit with a steel drum foot chase through the streets of Columbia. Steven Seagal is unable to make this sequence thrilling, because he runs like a toddler in a baton race. It is not merely his default setting, but his only setting. Still, he tries his best to get the audience excited by shoving people out of the way that aren’t even in his path. He practically runs over to people just so he can shove them down.
The man he is chasing is future Hollywood icon Danny Trejo, who attempts to thwart Steven Seagal’s pursuit by pushing over a cart of tamales. Steven Seagal cannot abide that mistreatment of street food, and he expresses his displeasure by getting hit by a station wagon.
It seems like Danny Trejo is getting away, but Steven Seagal uses his aikido magic to teleport in front of him and kick him in the stomach. It’s not a graceful martial arts kick, but the kick of a man trying to dislodge a candy bar from a vending machine. We have arrived at the first of Steven Seagal’s aikido outfits.
He is wearing multiple layers because Steven Seagal always layers up like a 1980s It Girl. The centerpiece of this ensemble is a satin jacket with white trim, commonly known as “a little league jacket” or “a coat for children.” He’s wearing a beaded half hoop earring in one ear, like an open mic guitarist who just got out of the Navy.
Beneath the jacket, Steven Seagal is wearing a black collared shirt tucked into black slacks. He looks like if tarmac could sexually assault people. I award this look 2 Tiger Manfaces – ridiculous, but subtle enough to bluff his way onto the judge’s table at a pre-teen karate demonstration without anyone suspecting he intends to challenge the winner to a bo staff duel.
Steven Seagal interrogates Danny Trejo in the trunk of his car. Danny Trejo is the finest actor in this scene because he has to pretend that he can’t just pummel Steven Seagal into hamburger meat at the slightest provocation. Danny Trejo has actually seen shit. Steven Seagal is a California aerobics instructor pretending he knows karate.
Steven Seagal then slaps the shit out of his partner for taking his eyes off of Danny Trejo, even though his partner caught up to Danny Trejo without getting hit by a station wagon. We are four minutes into this film and Steven Seagal has slapped three of the four actors he has spoken to.
Danny Trejo tells Steven Seagal and his partner about a deal with Salazar, who is a man with a bolo tie and one leg up on a school desk. The deal goes bad and a man in suspenders threatens Steven Seagal with a sword.
Steven Seagal, sensing that we are dangerously close to witnessing a genuine action scene, easily takes the sword away from the guy and chops one goon’s hand off. Then he bonks suspenders guy on the head with the sword and kicks him through a mirror. Then a third guy comes running up and Seagal sidesteps him through a table in slow motion. He does a prancing karate dance, presumably to distract us from the fact that he has yet to do any karate.
A naked woman gets the drop on his partner and shoots him. Steven Seagal shoots the naked woman 12 times. That is not an exaggeration.
Back home in Chicago, Steven Seagal is in confession. We are now presented with the second aikido outfit of the film. I call this one “the Danny Tanner.”
He is dressed like a server at The Cheesecake Factory, or like a kid who accidentally left half of his tuxedo at the mall on his way to prom. This is a 3 Tiger Manface ensemble – he’s dressed like a Wayans brother on the red carpet at the premiere of Encino Man. He looks like a magician on a riverboat cruise. Plenty of people could pull off one or two of these items, but not all of them, and certainly not Steven Seagal.
After explaining to the priest that he is on an unquenchable quest for justice that he knows must bring him outside of the law, he rattles off his list of offenses – “I’ve just killed a woman. I’ve lied, I’ve slept with informants, I’ve taken drugs, I’ve falsified evidence, I did whatever I had to do to get the bad guys. Then I realized something. That I had become what I most despise.” Steven Seagal then leaves to go tell DEA Captain Peter Jason that he wants to retire, while the priest presumably calls the FBI.
Steven Seagal towers over Peter Jason in this scene. It looks like Seagal is standing on multiple apple boxes and Peter Jason’s legs were severed at the knee. It’s like Peter Jason is watching Kong scale the Empire State Building. Steven Seagal has claimed to be 6’5”, and while he’s visibly a tall guy, there is no way he is as tall as an NBA shooting guard. Even if he were, Peter Jason is 5’11”, and the height differential in this scene is way more than 6 inches. The fourth thing you must understand about Marked for Death is that Steven Seagal is deeply insecure.
Seagal drives his sports car to his sister’s home in nearby suburbia, leering at some teenage cheerleaders as he enters the neighborhood. His sister is having a barbecue. A little kid runs up to say hello to him and he slaps the kid in the face. That’s just how Steven Seagal greets people in this movie, like a dog burying its nose in your crotch.
Steven Seagal goes upstairs to his room, because he apparently lives here, where a bow and loose arrows are sitting out on a desk. There is a shadow box full of guns on the wall. He sits down at his desk and wistfully repairs what appears to be a zip gun, a weapon used to murder traffic cops in the 1940s.
He shows up to the local high school football practice the following day in a velour tracksuit.
This is an outfit worthy of 4 Tiger Manfaces. He’s dressed like a supporting character on The Sopranos.
The football coach is Steven Seagal’s old friend Keith David. He takes Keith David out to a bar, where “all the ugly girls used to work.” Because Marked for Death is a deeply unsubtle film about the scourge of recreational drug use, Keith David tells Seagal that he had a player overdose on cocaine and die the previous year. That’s a lot of cocaine, man. Too much, one might argue.
Steven Seagal’s “going out for drinks” aikido garb is the finest outfit in the entire film.
It technically consists of several pieces, but the only one that matters is the black satin jacket with twin dragons on the front and a tiger with a human face on the back. And now my rating system makes sense.
I cannot stress enough that Steven Seagal dresses like a 10-year-old’s definition of cool. The only people in this world who would wear that jacket out in public are me and Steven Seagal. The jacket makes several more appearances in the film.
It is his official aikido gi. I award it 15 Tiger Manfaces and my firstborn child.
Bad guys come in and start shooting up the bar. Seagal very angrily pushes a woman down to safety, like he is mad at the inconvenience. He only knows one way to touch people, and that is “with violence.” He has the opportunity to beat up one of the goons, but he opts to put the guy in an extremely slow wrist lock instead. This is his signature move, because it allows him to completely neutralize his foes while keeping 98% of his body motionless.
The Jamaicans, enraged by Steven Seagal’s involvement, drive by his sister’s house in a BMW and shoot up the place with M16s. Steven Seagal heroically dives for cover, clearing the way for his grade school niece to catch all of the bullets intended for him. She is now in a coma, and Seagal is officially Marked for Death™. We do not see his niece again or receive any updates about her condition.
Steven Seagal hits the streets to dig up information on the Jamaican boss, a guy named Screwface who practices voodoo and appears to have actual magic powers. He barges in on mid-level goon Jimmy Fingers, who is busy having sex with two women. Seagal tells them to “go find another trick” using his “cool action guy” voice, which sounds exactly like a smug dickhead, and starts questioning Jimmy. A Jamaican gang member bursts out of the bathroom to attack.
Once again, Steven Seagal detects that we are getting uncomfortably close to an action scene, so he shoots Jimmy Fingers in the face and the gang member throws himself out of the window. The crisis has been averted.
Steven Seagal returns to his sister’s house to discover a sinister voodoo spell, and this scene’s outfit is a true blockbuster.
For reasons buried within his secret heart, Steven Seagal is wearing a puffy jacket, a t-shirt, and a scarf. Like a riding scarf. Like one of the Wright Brothers. I award it 3 Tiger Manfaces for its boldness.
Later that night, Steven Seagal goes to visit a sexy international voodoo expert.
He is wearing a blazer and jeans, like he’s about to perform ten punishing minutes of stand-up comedy. They are not his finest aikido robes, but a suitably insane choice given the circumstances. I award this outfit 1 Tiger Manface.
The bad guys break in and attempt to perform a voodoo ritual on Steven Seagal’s sister, but he lightly jogs inside just in time to rescue her without throwing a single punch or kick. He decides to take the fight to them by hopping into Keith David’s Dodge Ramcharger and dispensing vigilante justice, a phrase here meaning “indiscriminately firing guns in the suburbs.”
He and Keith David get into a car chase with the bad guys and force their car through the front of a jewelry store. As a reminder, Steven Seagal is retired, and Keith David is a high school football coach. We are now 53 minutes in, and Steven Seagal has done zero martial arts.
He dispatches several goons with an electrifying series of sidesteps and wrist locks. He does another brief karate dance, as a signal to the audience that something exciting is supposed to be happening.
One goon takes a woman hostage and Steven Seagal attempts to play it off as convincingly as a shitty-pantsed man insisting he’s never shit upon his pants. “You wanna kill her?” he taunts, telegraphing the incoming wrist lock like Western Union. “Go ahead and kill her, I don’t care. I don’t know her, I don’t know her at all.” The nail-biting standoff becomes too much for the goon to bear, and he tries to stab Steven Seagal, who whips out his signature wrist lock to the delighted applause of audiences the world over and instantly stabs him in the chest with his own knife.
Later that night, bad guys masquerading as construction workers trap Steven Seagal in his bitchin’ sports car. They try to crush him to death with a bulldozer, and he frantically slaps at the doors to try and escape. He literally slaps them, like a cat knocking over a glass of water. I have no idea why he does this, unless of course he is telling the doors “hello” in his unique Steven Seagal way.
Steven Seagal and his friends chase Screwface to Jamaica, where he whips out another fabulous aikido costume.
He is wearing a scoop-necked tank top, a long sleeve t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a blazer. There is no reason any of those items should ever be worn at the same time. A puzzling 2 Tiger Manface ensemble.
Steven Seagal and his friends stake out Screwface’s base, where he issues silent commands to his teammates using a series of indecipherable hand gestures he clearly just invented. At no point does the movie attempt to translate his signals, because it doesn’t know what the fuck he is doing either. His comrades secure the perimeter while Steven Seagal creeps inside and is instantly captured, a development made exponentially more hilarious by the black ops outfit he bought at Party City (1 inverted Tiger Manface).
Once again, Steven Seagal comes dangerously close to performing an action scene. He grabs three goons with a single wrist lock and flips them to the floor but forgets to let go of the guy’s arm and briefly loses his balance. It is very, very funny.
He skips around the room, dealing out sidesteps and arm locks, until no goons are left standing. It is almost impressive how little fighting he has managed to do in his martial arts action movie.
Screwface takes one stab at Seagal that he easily sidesteps. Then he takes the sword from Screwface, flips it into his dick, and cuts his head off. It is both anticlimactic and the coolest thing that has happened in Marked for Death so far.
Steven Seagal and his friends return to Screwface’s lair in Chicago to tell the rest of the bad guys that their boss is slain. Seagal is now wearing a third satin jacket and an overcoat.
He looks like a John Hughes character performing community service as a condition of his parole. He compulsively layers his outfits. He looks like if Silent Bob got really into rain sticks. I award this aikido lewk 3 Tiger Manfaces and 1 Pirate Radio DJ.
But in a genuine twist, Screwface’s twin brother appears for a final boss fight. It turns out that Screwface wasn’t really a voodoo wizard; he was just two guys. He was Parent Trapping the streets of Chicago.
Screwface 2 proceeds to beat the hell out of a stuntman in a Steven Seagal wig.
Not pictured: Steven Seagal.
Then they have a sword fight, which should be awesome, but Seagal holds the sword like he is afraid he’s going to drop it. He looks like he’s posing for the cover of a terrible NES game.
The sword fight ends almost as quickly as it began. Steven Seagal gouges Screwface 2’s eyes out, breaks him over his knee like Bane, and throws him down an elevator shaft to be impaled on a chest-hollowing spike.
It’s my favorite moment in any Steven Seagal film. I award it 11 Tiger Manfaces and 1 Astonished Kevin Dunn.
Having single-handedly won the war on drugs, Steven Seagal and Keith David limp out of the lair and walk off into the night. And then the credits roll. Did his niece wake up from her coma? Did she get the surgery she needed? Who gives a shit? This is Marked for Death. 6 Tiger Manfaces and 1 Bullet-Riddled Niece.
Tom Reimann is the co-founder of the podcast and streaming network Gamefully Unemployed, where he is currently making a badass tiger jacket out of unsold merchandise from the import store at the mall.
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Andreas Larsson, who wears a jacket of a tiger-faced man and is also the opposite of Steven Seagal in every other way.