I hate to admit it, but during the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, Steven Seagal action flicks were one of my guilty pleasures. Sure, his films are cheesy and he was always typecast as the hero who was ‘Above the Law,’ ‘Out for Justice,’ and ‘Hard to Kill,’ but there was still something oddly intriguing about a guy in a ponytail casually patty-caking his enemies into submission. But then Steven got older, slower, and a little pudgier, and the fans lost interest. By the time Y2K rolled around, the movies he churned out had become dull and repetitious, and with his career long past its prime, it was almost poetic that he ended his theatrical run with the aptly named ‘Half Past Dead.’
Seagal stars as Sasha Petrosevitch, an FBI agent posing as a car thief in order to infiltrate the criminal underworld and bring his wife's killer to justice. While deep undercover, Sasha gains the trust of Nick (Ja Rule)--an associate of the crime boss responsible for the murder. But before he even has a chance to taste sweet vengeance, a takedown goes wrong and Sasha is shot. After Sasha recovers from his near death experience eight months later, he’s back on the job gathering more information by being incarcerated with Nick at the newly reopened Alcatraz.
The plot thickens, with the first inmate slated to face the penitentiary’s state-of-the-art death chamber--Lester McKenna (Bruce Weitz)— who is literally minutes from taking a secret worth $200,000,000 in gold bullion to his grave. Suddenly, a group of terrorists calling themselves the 49ers led by Donny (Morris Chestnut) skydive into the facility to extract the whereabouts of McKenna’s stash before he’s put to death. Add to the mix Supreme Court Justice Jane McPherson (Linda Thorson) on the island to witness Lester’s execution, and you have a handy dandy hostage if things go south. Fortunately, with Sasha, Nick, comic relief Twitch (Kurupt), and the rest of their posse taking matters into their own hands, these terrorists may find themselves trapped between The Rock and a hard place.
Now that you’ve read the synopsis listed above, I don’t think I really need to go into a song and dance routine telling you how harebrained this storyline is. I'd be partially forgivable of such a ridiculous plot if the movie was done in a tongue-in-cheek manner or at least had spurts of solid entertainment value, but unfortunately ‘Half Past Dead’ completely missed the boat on both accounts. All it seems writer-director Don Michael Paul did was stay up one night watching a stack of terrorist movies and go through the motions of incorporating every cliché in the book. What’s worse is that he overuses quick edits and slow-motion techniques to try and add a bit of flair, and with everyone being totally serious--the whole thing just comes off as unintentionally comical.
Seagal also coasts along on autopilot with the most effortless performance of his lifetime. Whether he realized the movie was going to tank or he figured he’s getting paid anyways so why bother, it’s obvious the word “try” never entered his vocabulary. Maybe the real Steven Seagal was sipping mojitos on a beach somewhere in Tahiti while the prop master slaved over constructing various life-size Seagal cardboard cutouts to stand up all over the set. It was like the lights were on but nobody was home, which is probably why he was nominated for a 2003 Razzie Award.
The nail in the coffin for ’Half Past Dead,’ though, has to be the PG-13 rating. I’m sure the filmmakers were banking on teenagers flocking to theaters to see their favorite rap artists at the time on the big screen, but people really need to start using their heads with these kinds of decisions. I’m not an advocate for graphic violence or explicit language, but the setting for the movie isn’t a Tupperware party—it’s a prison for crying out loud. Yet, people were spraying bullets down every nook and cranny of E-block and rarely getting hit, not to mention the worst curse word to come out of anyone’s mouth was “biatch.” C’mon. It was so tame it was like a bad episode of ‘The A-Team’—only this was one plan that didn’t come together.
‘Half Past Dead’ is given a brief second chance at life on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 (1.85:1 aspect ratio) transfer before rolling over and flat lining once again. Hopefully for good this time since I’m putting in a DNR order (Editor's Note - The E.R. variety).
Aside from the odd white speckle every now and then, the source appears to be in fairly clean shape. The cool color palette utilizes lots of blues, grays, and blacks to create a cold and hard look for the prison environment, but compared to other releases it’s far from striking. There's a slight softness throughout, although facial detailing and texture in close-ups is excellent. Every pore and crevice in Seagal’s aging skin is highlighted with the utmost clarity—whether you wanted to see it or not. Black levels vary from being dark and inky at times to more of a navy bluish around the upper corners of certain dimly lit scenes. Grain also becomes more and less apparent depending on camera angles. All in all, this one is better than the DVDs, but not one of the better Blu-rays.
The sound on this Blu-ray is all right. The lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks come in three flavors—English, French, and Portuguese—delivering all of the corny dialogue clearly through the center channel. Loud gunfire, explosions, and hard-thumping hip-hop music almost seem to be on a rinse, lather, repeat cycle to prevent viewers and the LFE channel from dozing off. Surrounds aren’t bad, either, and I thought there was a nice echo effect when the warden (Tony Plana) gave the new prisoners his philosophical speech. Clearly, the audio is the best part of this disc--it just isn’t enough to save the most boring movie on Seagal’s resume.
The disc also includes Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, as well as optional subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.
The Blu-ray of ‘Half Past Dead’ includes most of the same assortment of bonus features found on the previously released DVDs.
It baffles me how studios sift through their catalogues and give notorious flops like ‘Half Past Dead’ the high-definition treatment, while continuing to sit on some of the classics we’ve been anxiously awaiting for far too long. Anyway, the audio on the Blu-ray is decent, but the video is mediocre and the bonus features are basically just recycled content from previous editions. So like dropping a bar of soap in the prison showers, ‘Half Past Dead’ is something best to be avoided.