HALF PAST DEAD
** (out of 5)
November 15, 2002
Steven Seagal as SASCHA PETROSEVITCH
Morris Chestnut as DONNY/49ER ONE
Ja Rule as NICK FRAZIER
Nia Peeples as 49ER SIX
Written and Directed by: Don Michael Paul
BY KEVIN CARR
The tag line for “Half Past Dead” is “The good. The bad. And the deadly.” They should have stuck with simply, “The Bad.”
The plot is another remake of Steven Seagal’s 1992 hit “Under Siege.” Seagal plays an incredibly oily Sascha Petrosevitch, a Russian car thief working for one of the largest crime syndicates in the world. His “sponsor” into the organization is street-punk-turned-gangster Nick (Ja Rule). When their latest car boost goes awry with an FBI bust, Nick and Sascha are arrested.
Flash forward two years to New Alcatraz. Yup, another film about the classic prison being reopened for business. Sascha and Nick are now doing hard time together. In addition, there is a death row inmate named Lester (Bruce Weitz) to be executed for the robbery of $200 million and the death of 5 federal agents. Before he can be sizzled, mercenaries calling themselves The 49ers break into the prison and take everyone hostage in hopes that Lester will tell them where he hid the money.
Meanwhile, Sascha rallies the rag-tag group of prisoners to retake the prison and save the hostages.
After Seagal’s reinvention of his career with last year’s “Exit Wounds” (which probably owes more of it’s success to DMX than Seagal), he has found a new niche – the urban action film. Mark my words: It’s only a matter of time before we see Seagal take the screen with Martin Lawrence in another buddy film.
Although Ja Rule and Seagal have decent chemistry, listening to their excruciating dialogue is like hearing a formal debate between Bob Dylan and Ozzy Osbourne. Finally, producers have found someone who mumbles as much as Seagal. Maybe they wanted to make him look (or rather, sound) better.
The PG-13 rating is just plain irresponsible considering the level of violence and gunplay, which dovetails into the root problem of this film. It glorifies violent criminals, turning them into heroes in the end. Until you find out that Sascha is actually an FBI agent deep undercover (a surprise almost as shocking as Rosie O’Donnell admitting she is gay), there are no good guys. We have a gang of murderers, rapists and thieves, and we’re supposed to root for them simply because they’re the underdogs. Is this our definition of a movie for an urban or black audience? A movie with criminals as the main characters? What is movie marketing coming to?
If you want to see plenty of gunfire and explosions, this is your bag. However, even for action fans, there are shootouts that drag on and on with bullets flying at nothing in particular. The 49ers are sometimes incredibly accurate (like when Nia Peeples manages to assassinate three guards from a spinning parachute) and other times worse shots than the Stormtroopers in “Star Wars” (like when Morris Chestnut can’t machinegun Seagal’s 300-pound carcass running down a narrow corridor).
There are some good things to this film, however, many of which involve a still hot 40+ Nia Peeples kicking butt in tight leather with a barenaked midriff. And the action is still pretty decent. The plot is actually what grinds this one to a halt. Still, this is better than many of Seagal’s earlier films like “The Patriot,” “The Glimmer Man” and the dreadful “On Deadly Ground.”
Of course, the original reason for a Steven Seagal movie (i.e., martial arts moves) was lost long ago when Seagal started packing on the pounds. Now, his only martial arts move left involves flapping his arms around like the Three Stooges. Plus, in this film, he is constantly shot in shadows and in close up to obscure his colossal belly.
There is one point I would very much like to congratulate the filmmakers on. It is very, very, VERY refreshing to see an action movie nowadays that doesn’t have so much wire work that it becomes ludicrous (like in “Charlie’s Angels” and “The Musketeer”). While “Half Past Dead” dips into many pots to use old action stand-bys, they resist the urge to have the actors literally fly around the room. But maybe this was because they couldn’t find a rig strong enough to lift Seagal.