Sony // 2002 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // February 28th, 2003
Let's all sit back and have ourselves a nice cocktail filled with one part rapper and another part washed up movie star. If you've served this concoction correctly, you should be enjoying the light and frothy taste of action star Steven Seagal's latest opus Half Past Dead. Also starring rap star Ja Rule and Morris Chestnut (The Brothers), Half Past Dead blows some stuff up on DVD care of Columbia TriStar Entertainment.
Steven Seagal plays Sascha Petrosevitch, an FBI agent who is going deep undercover to stop a vicious crime lord who apparently shot and killed Sascha's wife. After a botched car theft with the FBI lands Sascha and Nick Frazier (Ja Rule) in a newly reopened Alcatraz prison (Sascha is there to keep close to Nick so he'll give him information), things quickly go from bad to worse. You see, one of the prisoners who is scheduled to be executed knows where $200 million worth of gold bars is stashed. Right before said prisoner's execution, a group of criminals break into the prison, led by the slickly handsome Donny (Morris Chestnut) and his sexy right-hand henchwoman (Nia Peeples). Not only do they want the prisoner for his knowledge of the gold, they're also holding a Supreme Court Justice hostage who had arrived for the execution. Now it's up to Sascha to gather the remaining prisoners and fight back before Alcatraz becomes everyone's final resting place.
If the Academy Awards had a category for "Most Inconsequential Action Movie," Half Past Dead would sweep three years running. Here is a movie that has all the elements of an action movie, but none of the heart. I am taking a gamble here by saying that the only reason this film was made was because of Seagal's surprise success with 2001's Exit Wounds, which also starred rap artist DMX. Half Past Dead is proof that lightning rarely strikes twice. Maybe a better title for the film would have been Half Past Its Entertainment Expiration Date.
Helicopters crash. Walls explode. Bullets ricochet. Blood is shed (in a PG-13 kind of way). Yes, Half Past Dead has a lot of stuff in it, just not anything interesting or original. Around the halfway mark, viewers will surely be looking at their watches with only one thought in their heads: "I've seen all of this before." Half Past Dead rips off half a dozen other movies, not the least of which is the Sean Connery / Nicolas Cage movie The Rock. In that far superior flick, our heroes must stop a terrorist who has taken control of Alcatraz. In Half Past Dead, we have the same situation, expect these criminals are younger and dress sharper. You'd think that if they knew hand-to-hand combat may be an option, they'd worn better fitting clothes. But, I stand corrected -- apparently it's more important to look cool than it is to dress comfortably.
Steven Seagal has put on some weight. You wouldn't know it since the cinematographer makes sure to film him from certain angles to hide his pudge, combined with Seagal wearing mounds of clothing to cover his load. To watch the dour Seagal act is like witnessing a blizzard blow through your town -- it's cold, it's depressing, and it's very unpleasant. Seagal's character mourns the death of his wife, though I can't imagine he was any less sour during their fictional courtship (I can see their wedding vows now: "I promise to love and obey you, though thick and thin and...uh, all that other shit"). Ja Rule as Seagal's partner knows how to sneer and say "aiiiyt" a lot (translation: alright). Morris Chestnut plays the heavy as if he were posing for a GQ centerfold -- with his slick trench coat and an "I am a bad mutha' f****r" demeanor, this is a man that you don't want to mess with lest you be taken out by his enormous ego. There are a few other supporting characters, but they amount to little more than pointless exposition.
If Seagal's Exit Wounds was the tide, maybe Half Past Dead will be the ebb that takes him back to the straight-to-video marketplace. I love action movies as much as the next guy, but do they have to be so undeniably bland? For those looking to waste and hour and a half of their life on what will eventually be amnesiac entertainment, Half Past Dead is for you.
Half Past Dead is presented in a fine looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Columbia has produced a decent image that sports generally solid colors and dark black levels. Though the transfer often seemed a bit too dark for my tastes, overall this is a decent looking picture that is void of any excessive grain, dirt, or major imperfections.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. Hey, say what you will about the movie, but this soundtrack rocks -- it's loud, bombastic, and full of directional effects. By the time the rockets and gunfire kick in, this sound mix goes into overdrive with both front and rear surrounds that don't let up until the final climactic scene. Of course, this begs the question: does a man being thrown through a plate glass window make a sound if no one cares to watch? All aspects of mix are free and clear of hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English and French subtitles.
Even though Half Past Dead bombed in theaters, Columbia has still seen fit to include a few snazzy supplements on this DVD. Here's a rundown of what's on the disc:
Commentary by Writer/Director Don Michael Paul: The director discusses the movie in general terms, including the fact that it was written about ten years ago under another title: "The Rock." Hmm...wonder why they didn't stick with that name or release it in 1993? This is a very general commentary track that is neither overly interesting nor horribly boring -- it's just kinda there.
Deleted Scenes: Three deleted scenes are included, each presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. Much like the commentary track, these scenes are neither here nor there. I don't think they would have added much to the final cut of the film; then again, the talents of Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Joel Silver combined wouldn't have been able to salvage this mess.
"The Making of Half Past Dead" Featurette: "This is going to be the new breed of action movies!" giggles Morris Chestnut. Mr. Chestnut was apparently not infused with the gift of prophecy. The director quips about Seagal, "You say his name and people have a response to him." Yes, and that response is retching. This is a very fluffy promo piece featuring interviews with Seagal, Paul, Ja Rule, Nia Peeples, and more.
Trailers: Four theatrical trailers are included: Half Past Dead, the Eddie Murphy/Owen Wilson comedy I Spy, Vin Diesel's xXx, and the Martin Lawrence flick National Security.
I hope that this will be the last time I have to sit through a Steven Seagal movie. You may be echoing that same sentiment after watching Half Past Dead. Columbia's work on this disc is far, far better than the film deserves.
Half Past Dead is the most apt name the makers could have given this movie. Blah.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Track by Writer/Director Don Michael Paul
* Three Deleted Scenes
* "The Making of Half Past Dead" Featurette
* Four Theatrical Trailers
* Official Site