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HALF PAST DEAD

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Steven Seagal, Morris Chestnut, Ja Rule, Nia Peeples, Tony Plana, Kurupt
Director: Don Michael Paul
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: March 4, 2003

“Now give up your guns, or two things can happen. You get killed, or you get caught. Comprende?

“COMPRENDE THIS!”

Film **1/2

For an action thriller, Half Past Dead is as eager and ferocious as they come; too bad it had to bare the resemblance of a much stronger action picture, which I’ll leave you to discover as I reveal plot details. But I can certainly state that the movie certainly won’t put you to sleep, as it acquires an endless array of stunts and action, making it the ideal movie for a Friday late night. It’s interesting to note that, while some may find non stop deafening violence to be the bottom of the barrel of modern movies, it’s the only element that keeps Half Past Dead from being a much worse movie. In fact, there’s so much firepower in this movie, I forgot for a while that it was even rated PG-13.

The plot, for what exists, involves a hostile situation taking place on an island prison dubbed The New Alcatraz. The newly designed facility has gained attention for containing a new state of the art death chamber. The first scheduled execution to take place is that of an aging prisoner who constructed a heist of gold worth precisely 200 million, which resulted in five deaths, as well as the gold never being recovered. Just moments before the execution, a rogue group of military terrorists parachute onto the island and intercept the scheduled execution indefinitely. The reason: the squad’s leader, Donny (Morris Chestnut), wants the death row inmate kept alive so he can discover the location of the gold.

But, just like you can always expect in this sort of movie, there’s one issue that the terrorists doesn’t count on, undercover FBI agent Sascha Petrosevitch (Steven Seagal), who is posing as an inmate in order to keep up his cover on car thief Nick Frazier (Ja Rule). Before the prison stint, the two were allegedly partners in a car theft ring, until a sudden FBI bust resulted in a shootout, where Sascha took seven bullets and was pronounced dead before recovering, hence the title. The undercover agent now must put this matter aside in order to stop the terrorists, who also have a number of hostages, including a Supreme Court Justice.

As you can probably tell by now, the movie bares a near clone-resemblance of The Rock, which itself was inspired by another action movie by the name of Die Hard, but Michael Bay’s strong, roller coaster ride of a movie achieved much more than Half Past Dead is ever so capable of. For starters, you had a much stronger cast, an entirely more involving plotline, and an ever more complex villain as portrayed by Ed Harris. With this movie, it feels simply by-the-numbers, and all together not very engaging. Though the action scenes are well done, especially a mono a mono duel in swinging chains.

Steven Seagal is one action star who has made both good movies (Under Siege, Exit Wounds) and bad movies (On Deadly Ground, Fire Down Below) and Half Past Dead fits a lot nearer to the latter category. While certainly not a masterful actor, Seagal has always had a likeable feel to him and manages throw a good bone crunching fight scene every now and then. With this movie, though, both are lacking somewhat. Since this is his first non R rated movie, we are deprived of the graphic violence, as the action in Half Past Dead is limited to frequent shootouts. Hopefully, the once popular action star will bounce back with a better movie.

Video ***

A very decent video job from Columbia Tri Star. When in bright lighting, the anamorphic presentation really shines, but in the darker lit scenes it isn’t as successful. A pivotal sequence near the end look slightly fuzzy, or it could’ve been just me. Overall, the image quality is a more than acceptable view, with crisp imaging and natural colorization. A full screen version is also included.

Audio ****

I didn’t expect any big errors in the audio department, as Columbia Tri Star pumps up the sound for a lively 5.1 mix. There’s barely a silent moment in the movie, providing solid opportunity to showcase good surround sound quality and endless dynamic range with the action sequences and loud music in full boomin’ mode. Quite a knockout of a listen.

Features ***

Featured on the disc is a commentary track by director Don Michael Paul, a Cinemax behind the scenes featurette, some deleted scenes, and trailers for this movie, as well as I Spy, National Security, and XXX.

Summary:

Although I am not panning it as hard as a lot of critics did, I still find Half Past Dead a somewhat cheap attempt at re-doing The Rock, despite the presence of a few nifty action numbers.

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