When I first saw the trailer for Steven Seagal’s Half Past Dead in 2002, I shook my head in shame as I watched one of America’s best action stars of the 1990s swagger around in a silly-looking bandana in his quest to appeal to teenage audiences as he somewhat successfully attempted in his previous film – Exit Wounds. It was cute the first time with DMX but not the second time with Ja Rule. I was one of the few that still went to see Half Past Dead in the theaters, but the film flopped – making a profit of about 5 million bucks. Half Past Dead was the film that ended Seagal’s career in the theaters, but at least he continues to have success in the straight-to-video film industry.
Sascha Petrosevitch (Steven Seagal) is an undercover FBI agent who is sent to a newly reopened Alcatraz prison, along with his car thief sidekick Nick Frazier (Ja Rule). A group of bad-ass criminals led by 49er One (Morris Chestnut) and 49er Six (Nia Peeples) storm the prison, kill most of the guards, and hold the warden hostage. The criminals are there for one reason only – to pry information from a death-row prisoner who knows where 200 million dollars worth of gold bars are hidden. Sascha’s plan is to stop the criminals from succeeding by getting help from the other prisoners, whooping ass, and taking control of the prison.
Half Past Dead is neither a boring movie nor a bad action movie. The main problem with Half Past Dead and why this movie ended Steven Seagal’s theatrical movie career is that the movie should have been released ten years earlier and also because the director, Don Michael Paul, did not take advantage of Seagal’s strengths.
Even older and puffier, Steven Seagal is still an imposing presence yet Don Michael Paul barely used his fighting skills in Half Past Dead. Did the director forget that this man spent most of his life as an Aikido instructor before he became an actor? Seagal does a lot of jogging around and shooting into the air, but his two hand-to-hand combat scenes amount to about 15 seconds long. Those were some heart-pounding 15 seconds, but the audience deserves more. When I watch a Seagal movie, I expect to see a good amount of him bitch-slapping a baddie through a window. The director even hired a Hong Kong action choreographer, Xin Xin Xiong, who worked in the Once Upon a Time In China movies, Dragon Inn, Black Mask, and The Musketeer but his skills were barely used as well! A smaller budget should not hamper the fight scenes, especially if you hired a Hong Kong action choreographer for the film. Fortunately, Half Past Dead has at least one awesome fight scene – Nia Peeples versus Ja Rule. In the only beautifully-choreographed and nicely-edited action scene, Nia Peeples kicks Ja Rule’s ass! This was a great moment because Ja Rule is the Jar Jar Binks-irritating character in the movie.
There are a few other positives in this film. Previously playing an annoying sidekick to Seagal in Under Siege 2, Morris Chestnut reunites with Seagal as the main intimidating villain in Half Past Dead. African-Americans are rarely cast as villains so I was glad to see Chestnut get a juicy role for a change. Also, the movie is full of slang which may be annoying to many, but I find that type of dialogue extremely entertaining and funny. I knew I was in for a treat when a goon asks Steven Seagal if he’s Russian. Seagal answers in his regular Seagal voice, “yeah, you got a problem with that?” What Seagal is really thinking, “I’m Steven Seagal and I don’t need to act Russian to be Russian, you punk.” The rest of the movie is filled with funny cliched slang, such as the most famous one, “Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about!”
How sad is it that most action movie stars can’t make intelligent decisions as Clint Eastwood? Eastwood has been on a 50-year streak of being at the top. There has been no other action movie star that has succeeded for that long. Whether he stars or directs, Eastwood is cinema’s greatest action hero because he understands his audience during any time period and gives them what they crave. I don’t know why other action movie stars consistently ruin their movie careers by succumbing to their egos, having bad agents, coasting off their reputation, going bankrupt, or flipping out in public.
I grew up watching action movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Chan, Christopher Lambert, Jet Li, Kurt Russell, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Wesley Snipes, and of course Steven Seagal. I never got sick of watching them and I still love them all. I’m not a violent person but it’s a good feeling to know that there are action-movie stars that we can count on to give us ass-kicking blockbusters. The downfall of many of these actors is not due to them choosing to be in bad movies. Many of their famous and respectable movies are low-reviewed B-movies anyway. Steven Seagal’s best films – Above the Law, Hard to Kill, Marked for Death, Out for Justice, Under Siege 1 & 2 – are not good movies, but they are great action films that highlight his strengths and show that he is an imposing presence on screen. The problem is that many of these popular action heroes try to mimic their successful movies over and over while ignoring the trends of each time period. A 1980s-style action movie did not do well in the 1990s. A 1990s Lethal Weapon-style action movie did not do well in The Matrix-style 2000s. And in 2012, audiences like retro 1980s-style action movies (The Expendables) and Bourne Identity-style action movies. So I get upset watching my favorite action heroes consistently choosing movies that don’t fit their time period, thus becoming obsolete or demoted to straight-to-video films.
Sony’s Blu-rays usually have flawless video quality, but Half Past Dead’s 1080p 1.85:1 image is a schizophrenic one. The video quality on this UK Region-free Blu-ray is very good but jumps around from highly-detailed crisp shots to soft, grainy ones. Even dark scenes are inconsistent – some are clear with well-defined shadows, while others looks like a blurry and cruddy mess. Overall, the majority of the video looks good and the faulty characteristics of this Blu-ray did not distract me during my viewing experience.
The English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 could have been awesome, but this Blu-ray is all over the place when it comes to properly mixing music, gun sound effects, and dialogue. Dialogue sounds too low in contrast to the music and sound effects. You will need to keep your finger on the volume button of your remote as you watch this film. Also, the Blu-ray could have been a reference-quality audio mix with so many guns blaring all over the place, but the music unfortunately overpowers any action scene. Subwoofer action is highly satisfying. At least the audio mix isn’t a Dolby Digital 5.1 and is good enough for this type of film.
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 French and Dolby Digital 5.1 Russian audio choices, as well as Dutch, Hindi, Norwegian, Finnish, French, Romanian, English, Danish, Swedish, and Arabic subtitles are also included.
The lacking extras are not a big deal because the director’s commentary is gold! This commentary was one of the best commentaries I’ve heard in a long time. Do you ever get excited listening to a compulsive liar explaining their actions to a judge on one of those reality court shows? Well, that’s what what we get in the commentary. Besides claiming that Half Past Dead is one of the first hip-hop movies that infuses rap and rock culture (not true) and claiming that he created an original “swinging from chains” fight scene (he doesn’t acknowledge any Hong Kong action movie where he probably first saw this type of scene), Don Michael Paul entertains listeners with excuse after excuse to why the film flopped:
Excuse number 1: Paul keeps on repeating Half Past Dead is just a fun “let-your-brain-take-a-rest”popcorn film.
Excuse number 2: The film was written to be a 60 million dollar movie but could only get a 13 million dollar budget. Thus, “the epicness” of the film suffered.
Excuse number 3: Half Past Dead was originally called The Rock and was supposed to be released in 1996, but a similar Michael Bay film came out that year with the same name and similar story, so the film had to be delayed and rewritten.
Excuse number 4: The director couldn’t find enough respectable actors because filming took place right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and actors were too emotionally disturbed or stressed out to travel to Germany where the film was shot.
Excuse number 5: Paul admits that the original screenplay didn’t have any African-American characters in the film – just white characters. So when Michael Bay’s The Rock came out first and stole all “his ideas”, he changed the screenplay around to be a more hip-hop urban-oriented film by giving roles to African-American rappers.
– Director’s Commentary
– Deleted Scenes
– The Making of Half Past Dead (13:17)
Hopefully, current popular action stars such as Donnie Yen, Jason Statham, and Dwayne Johnson won’t make the same poor film decisions as the iconic action stars of the 1980s and 1990s. I’m happy to see that Stallone has learned from his past mistakes – the only iconic action movie star who is really working hard to make his comeback. Many may disagree, but I always thought that Stallone was a smart guy – his finest films are ones that he wrote, directed, or worked with respectable directors. I’m praying that Seagal follows in Stallone’s footsteps with at least one more comeback film – a film that will be better than even his popular 1990 ones. I was thrilled to hear that Seagal got cast as a villain in Roberto Rodriguez’ Machete, but my excitement quickly ended after falling asleep 15 minutes into the film. Maybe a director like Steven Soderbergh or even Stallone (Expendables 3, hint…hint) can help an old action hero out!
If you are a fan of Steven Seagal or unintentionally funny action movies, Half Past Dead is worth renting!