Marked Man (1996)

vt Le Guet-Apens
Canada / 95 minutes / color / Image Dir: Marc Voizard Pr: Pierre David, Stefan Wodoslawsky Scr: Thomas Ritz Cine: Stephen Reizes Cast: Roddy Piper, Jane Wheeler, Alina Thompson, Tyrone Benskin, Christopher Bolton, Miles O’Keeffe, Dennis O’Connor, Richard Zeman, Clare Sims, David Nichols, Claudia Besso, Vlasta Vrana, Mark Camacho.

Marked Man - 1 The murdered Elkins breathes his last

The murdered Elkins (David Nichols) breathes his last.

Massachusetts auto mechanic Frank Gibson (Piper) is looking forward to his imminent marriage to Janet “Jan” Atkinson (Besso), only to see a drunk driver (Camacho) mow her down. As the drunk offers to “pay for any damage” a furious Frank punches him on the jaw. The man falls, hits his head, and dies . . . with the result that Frank is consigned for three years to a minimum-security prison.

One day he witnesses the two guards Pappas (O’Connor) and Watters (Zeman) murder Harvey Elkins (Nichols), a financier serving time for corrupt dealings. As the guards try to kill Frank in turn, he goes on the run; Watters in fact catches him but, as he prepares to murder Frank, they struggle over the gun and the usual happens. So now Frank is wanted for two murders, because obviously he’s being framed for Elkins’s death ‑‑ and, since one of the dead men was employed in law enforcement, the cops aren’t in much of a mood to take Frank alive.

Marked Man - 2 The conniving Vince

The conniving Vince Mallick (Miles O’Keeffe).

Desperate to clear his name, he makes his way across country to the home of Pappas, arriving just in time to find the corrupt guard recently murdered by psycho private-security-company boss Vince Mallick (O’Keeffe) . . . and to put his fingerprints all over everything, something that in due course the CSI investigators apparently entirely ignore. Frank does discover that Pappas made a lot of phonecalls to a number in Albany, so he makes his way there and contacts his formerly wastrel kid brother Andy (Bolton) for help.

Marked Man - 3 Pappas meets his end at Vince's hands

Pappas (Dennis O’Connor) meets his end at Mallick’s hands.

Marked Man - 5 Frank's kid brother Andy shows his old wastrel days are behind him

Frank’s kid brother Andy (Christopher Bolton) shows his old wastrel days are behind him.

By now FBI Agent Kate Gallagher (Wheeler) and her sidekick Boyd (Benskin) are on the case; Boyd is an old buddy of Vince Mallick’s from when they were cops together. Like the cops, Gallagher assumes Frank is guilty, but is anxious to reach him before the cops do in order to save him from being gunned down on sight.

Marked Man - 4 FBI Agent Kate GallagherMarked Man - 7 Boyd still thinks Vince is a sraight-up guy

FBI agents Kate Gallagher (Jane Wheeler) and Boyd (Tyrone Benskin).

Dodging cops and investigating where he can, Frank is able to uncover evidence that the murder of Harvey Elkins was set up by, you guessed it, Vince Mallick, who was at the police academy with Pappas, and that Mallick had in turn been hired by Sylvia Elkins (Thompson), the financier’s trophy second wife, to arrange the murder: while officially the Elkinses are completely bankrupt, in fact Harvey and Sylvia cunningly salted away a valise full of cash in a storage facility. Naturally the cops investigating Harvey’s crimes never thought to look there!

Marked Man - 8 Sylvia learns about Vince's little 'insurance policy'

The scheming widow Sylvia (Alina Thompson).

The plot of Marked Man doesn’t bear even the least rigorous examination. Despite the fact that he has failed to serve out his full sentence and has killed a couple of people since his escape (both times accidentally and in self-defense, but still . . .), at movie’s end Frank seems to have been given a clean bill of legal health, just like that. Earlier, searching through Mallick’s videotapes for the one that he knows will incriminate Mallick and Sylvia, Frank cries “Bingo!” as he reaches the right one . . . even though Mallick has with fiendish cleverness labeled it “Hawaii” so that no one could pick it out among the rest. Frank gets repeatedly punched and even kicked in the face, yet magically shows no bruises; a couple of the people who’re killed remain remarkably unbloodied. Elkins’s daughter Lisa (Sims) seems on first appearance to have despised her dead father; later it’s evident she loved him dearly, and will risk her life to make sure Sylvia doesn’t get away with the murder. There’s more. Match it to dialogue with lines like (Mallick to Pappas) “You wouldn’t know ‘perfect’ if it jumped up and bit you in the ass” and you realize you’re not dealing with a movie that was premiered at Cannes.

Marked Man - 9 Frank has set a booby trap for Vince's goons

Frank surprises Mallick’s goons with a booby trap.

Even so, Marked Man is actually quite fun, in its own lowbrow way. Piper, a Canadian who made a long career as a highly successful professional wrestler (pretending he was a Scot), is less assured as an actor when he’s outside the ring. We get a tediously protracted scene of him taking part in a wrestling contest when he’s in prison, and bouts of him engaging in a sort of slow-motion martial arts are frequently interspersed throughout the movie. While it’s clear from these and some of his other feats that he’s in extraordinary athletic condition (he was in his forties when he made this), running seems not to be among his skills: he lumbers rather than sprints, which creates an odd effect of cognitive dissonance when he supposedly outruns, for example, a brace of German shepherd dogs. But he’s a personable enough hero for us to cheer, while O’Keeffe, hamming it up, is a villain satisfactorily vile enough for us to boo.

Marked Man - 6 Frank dodges bullets in the cemetery

Frank (Roddy Piper) escapes from the bad guys yet again.

There are some good performances in supporting roles, though. Sims is excellent as the gawky adolescent dealing with both the need to dramatically downsize her future expectations and the suspicion that her despised stepmother was behind Dad’s death. Bolton is equally good as the flake of a brother, a petty-crook miscreant who has managed to straighten himself out and who, when it counts, displays courage and intelligence. O’Connor delivers the goods as the murderously craven guard.

Marked Man - 10 Frank and Vince in the Last Duke-Out

Frank and Vince in the Last Duke-Out.

Marked Man has all the feel of a TV movie, yet as far as I can establish it was given a theatrical release in at least some territories.

The French vt means literally The Ambush.

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On Amazon.com: Marked Man (streaming) or Marked Man (VHS)

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This post is part of the O Canada Blogathon hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy.

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16 thoughts on “Marked Man (1996)

  1. Sometimes the more lowbrow films are more fun to watch, especially as a change of pace. I have not seen this film, but much enjoyed your breezy, generally favorable assessment of it. Some naughty business here. Great piece!

  2. I’d never even heard of Roddy Piper before, but now that I’ve read your review I’m doing an online search on his career. He sounds like an interesting character.

    There’s nothing wrong with lowbrow. In fact, my guilty pleasures are the Beach Blanket movies – don’t laugh. And THEY are as lowbrow as you can get! “Marked Man” sounds like it would be a lot of fun.

    Thanks for joining our blogathon, and for the introduction to both Piper and this film.

    • I’d never even heard of Roddy Piper before

      I’m startled that you’d never come across this Laurence Olivier de nos jours. I’ve actually seen him in something before, although I’ve not yet been able to work out what it was. (No, not one of his wrestling performances.)

      I have yet to try the Beach Blanket movies. On the other hand, I’m a huge fan of Independence Day and especially The Long Kiss Goodnight.

  3. Rowdy Roddy! he had the bagpipes for his wrestling theme song, and was in the Cyndi Lauper Goonies video! His prime wrestling years were when I was a kid so I knew this stuff. Never saw this movie but must be a fun kind of ‘amiable garbage.’ Thanks for choosing this one, great way to spotlight one of our stars.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Kristina! For what it’s worth, he’s arguably a better screen actor than a US counterpart, Arnold Schwarzenegger. And, as an actor in this vein, I’d certainly rate him above, say, Stephen Seagal or Chuck Norris.

  4. Thanks for the review, I am sure the review is more entertaining than the movie. I was a big fan of Piper as a wrestler, and I loved Piper’s Pit where he insulted everyone. It is a pity that he never really made it in Hollywood even though he was surprisingly good in They Live, and it’s hard not like Hell Comes to Frogtown.

    • Thanks for dropping by, and for the kind words. I wonder if his relative lack of success in Hollywood might be that his screen persona (at least to judge by this outing) is more that of a humble Ordinary Joe than strutting ass-kicker? I mean, obviously, yes, he does kick ass when he has to, but ordinarily he just wants to keep out of trouble. That’s different from many of the other action heroes, and maybe producers/audiences didn’t much go for it?

  5. Thanks for the review. Not sure if that’s a ‘watch it’ or ‘avoid it’! As a fan of lowbrow, fun TV noir movies I’ll try and catch it, and not expect to be too stretched by it, but just go along for the ride.

    • Thanks for dropping by!

      Not sure if that’s a ‘watch it’ or ‘avoid it’!

      Well, it’s certainly not caviar, but it’s perfectly acceptable beans on toast. For me, I like this sort of stuff — Mystery Woman, Jane Doe, can’t get enough — while at the same time not so much so that I’d normally watch them in preference to something a bit more challenging. After an evening at the pub, though: yep, Marked Man‘s just dandy!

  6. Loved reading this review. ‘Lowbrow’ films are my favourite guilty pleasure; the only film of Parker’s I’ve seen (I don’t think he’s so well-known in the UK!) is Immortal Combat which also starred Sonny Chiba. It was unintentionally hilarious, but Piper does have a real on-screen charisma (and apparently the duo made more than 200 films together?).

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