I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Half Past Dead

I don’t know how to explain my fascination with Steven Seagal, but you can read my review of ON DEADLY GROUND and maybe you’ll understand. I don’t think the dude is exactly advancing the cause of Badass Cinema with his works, but I still enjoy every new chapter of his saga.

This time around we find Seagal working with a young rapper named Ja Rule, stealing cars for some European guy. BUT NEVER FEAR. Although Seagal may SEEM to be a mere car thief (or I guess, since he’s Steven Seagal, an ex-CIA black ops car thief), it is heavily implied in the opening scene that he MAY actually be some kind of undercover FBI agent. I don’t want to give anything away though, who knows if he really is undercover or not. Nobody really knows until they themselves have seen the movie.

Half Past DeadOf course, as soon as we’ve introduced the idea that Seagal MAY be FBI, he fondles his wedding ring and stares meaningfully out the window, so we know that he is still mourning the death of his wife. And in the very next scene he has a job that goes wrong and he gets shot and he and Ja Rule end up in prison.

By the way I forgot to mention that Seagal’s name is Sasha, and he leaves his hair down instead of the traditional ponytail. Sorry, no fringe coat or beads this time around.

At this point in the picture we realize that this takes place in the near future, when Alcatraz has been reopened under the futuristic name “New Alcatraz.” It is supposed to be a top of the line maximum security joint but since it’s new they make a few mistakes. For example when they’re loading the convicts in the screws don’t mind that Seagal gets out of line and just starts having a conversation with Ja Rule. Also, as soon as they get through the metal detector they start boxing one of the screws, and throw him through a bookshelf, and they don’t get punished.

I mean I guess it’s some kind of futuristic liberal prison because they also got this kind of new agey hispanic warden in a leather jacket. He’s kind of like the cool guy warden. He talks tough but he wants to be your buddy. He practically coddles the lovable old man who they are about to execute for accidentally killing 5 people during a train robbery. (A futuristic train robbery, I think.) He even fulfills the old man’s Make a Wish Foundation request of getting to hang out with Steven Seagal before his execution. So luckily Seagal is there when Morris Chestnut and a bunch of other individuals with Columbine style weaponry and clothing drop in with parachutes to try to kidnap the old man to find out where he hid the gold that he stole during the futuristic train robbery that accidentally killed 5 people and put him on futuristic death row.

When last we saw Morris Chestnut in the Seagalniverse, he was a mere comic relief sidekick in UNDER SIEGE PART 2: DARK TERRITORY, aka DIE HARD ON A BOAT PART 2: DIE HARD ON A BOAT ON A TRAIN. But since then Mr. Chestnut has established himself playing handsome love interests in pictures like THE BEST MAN and THE BROTHERS. So now he’s gotten a promotion to Lead Villain. (A guy called Kurupt is the main comic relief character in this picture, so he has someone to look up to I guess.)

Mr. Chestnut doesn’t bring too many interesting thugs with him. There is nobody as good as Billy Bob Thornton in ON DEADLY GROUND or Everet McGill in DIE HARD ON A BOAT 2. But there is a chick with bright blue eye makeup (Nia Peeples, I guess?) who basically plays the part of Trinity in The Matrix. She flips around in leather and a trenchcoat, looking hot, doing kung fu, firing machine guns, etc. I think the filmatists actually felt a little guilty about the Matrixyness of it all. They have a reference to a place called “Trinity Lake.” Or maybe they’re sci-fi buffs, because as soon as Sasha gets into prison they start calling him by his number, 1137, which in my opinion is only one or two off from 1138. You know actually they probaly just did that because they regretted that they named him Sasha.

Come to think of it, why in the hell did they say he was russian anyway, or that he had a titanium knee? I don’t get it, man.

In my opinion, this is not the most realistic prison movie I’ve seen. There don’t seem to be very many convicts, the ones that are there are all very lovable, and the fuckin place has glass ceilings. True, they’re high ceilings, but trust me man you don’t want to tempt convicts. Oh well, it’s the future.

So how does this rate among the Seagal ouvre? Well it’s not in the top 10 percentile but I felt like I got my money’s worth. Seagal is kind of down on his luck right now. He’s suing his former producer partner Jules Nasso for getting the mob to strong arm him, and at the same time he’s fighting an uphill battle to prove he’s big screen material. He is widely perceived as fat, slow and not talented. His Dolemite fighting style does not translate well for the Yuen Woo Ping generation. His return to theatrical features, EXIT WOUNDS, opened big, but all the credit was given to co-star DMX. In fact the recent, otherwise great article about Seagal in Vanity Fair described the movie as a DMX vehicle with Seagal in a supporting role (which is a god damn lie).

Well here Seagal looks fatter and less agile than ever, but he’s found a pretty good solution for that. I guess I never reviewed THE PATRIOT, but in that straight to video picture he only had two brief action scenes. He played a doctor/toxicolgist and most of the set pieces were about lab work. In HALF PAST DEAD he avoids that problem, delivering the required amount of action by doing mostly ridiculous, cartoony action where he can be replaced by a stuntman. There’s a goofy car chase and a hilarious parachuting climax. He leaves all the running and jumping to the kids. The gal with the blue eyeshadow does all the flipping, Morris Chestnut jumps off a ledge like he’s Batman, and all the convicts jump down a couple floors for a gun battle. Meanwhile our heroes, Seagal and Ja Rule, hide inside a crashed helicopter.

To be fair, there is a part where Seagal and Chestnut fight while swinging around on chains, Thunderdome style. That was pretty good. But otherwise Seagal tries to stay rested. As a result, there is not a whole lot of bloodshed. For a Seagal movie, there is a very low bodycount, and I don’t remember any blood. In fact the most brutal things that happen to people are used as slapstick comedy for the rapper-actors, like when Ja Rule gets flung from a car into another car, or when Kurupt’s bazooka propels him 10 feet through the air and right through a window.

I mean this is a PG-13 movie. They even play songs with “motherfucker” in the chorus and then cut out the “fucker.” I noticed this three times. What is this, television? BLADE 2 had no problem playing “listen all you motherfuckers.” If you can’t hang with the big boys maybe you better stay home, HALF PAST DEAD.

That’s not a big deal really, I can just yell “fucker” in the theater every time they leave it out. Problem solved. What’s really missing here though, is the trademark Seagal corniness. I think the studios feel that in order to market Seagal to a new generation, they have to tone down the asskicking pacifist motif. He doesn’t get to agree with the core beliefs of militia groups (as in THE PATRIOT) or protect Native Americans (as in a couple of his movies) or even claim to be Buddhist (as in THE GLIMMER MAN) or do a speech about alternative fuel sources (as in ON DEADLY GROUND) or claim that the CIA created AIDS as a form of genocide against blacks and gays (as he apparently claimed in an unproduced script). He doesn’t get anywhere near ON DEADLY GROUND’s 3 QUESTIONS OF SEAGAL:

1. What does it take to change the essence of a man?

2. How much is enough? How much money is enough?

3. What do you say to a man with no conscience?

The closest we get is a little karma talk and more discussion of God than you generally expect in a shitty action thriller. Oh well, I guess you can’t hit a home run every time. Instead we get a couple quick shots at typical buddy movie shit (Ja Rule teaches him to say “aight”) and undercover cop/thief betrayal issues… or do we? Nobody knows if he is an undercover cop or not.

Ja Rule replaces DMX as the rapper buddy. He does a good job of reading his lines. But I liked the DMX fella better, he had a very strong screen presence and charisma, and when I saw him in the earlier picture BELLY I realized he was a natural movie star. Ja Rule is kind of a smaller, weaselier guy and judging from his songs on the soundtrack his music is just a shitty ripoff of DMX’s. But oh well, I won’t judge. The days when Michael Caine or Eric Bogosian would hop on board a Steven Seagal movie may be over, so we’ll take what we can get.

Well, maybe Michael Caine would do it again. I wonder if they’ve asked him?

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Saturday, November 16th, 2002 at 2:26 pm and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews, Seagal, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

20 Responses to “Half Past Dead”

  1. Holy shit, I just read that HALF PAST DEAD is the 19th worst-reviewed movie in the rottontomatoe database. I mean, I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s in any way good or even acceptable, but damn, there are two Larry the Cable Guy movies listed higher. EPIC MOVIE and DISASTER MOVIE both outrank it! Jesus, guys, that seems a little harsh in my opinion.

    http://www.rottentomatoes.com/guides/worst_of_the_worst/9/

  2. What should we blame for this? PG-13? Ja Rule? Don Michael Paul? 9-11? It’s not Seagal’s worst, but it’s his last theatrical one and his only one that’s not rated R. It did do well enough that they made a DTV sequel starring Bill Goldberg.

  3. Call me insane but I really liked Half Past Dead – sure, it’s a kinder, gentler Seagal, but it’s nice of him to try and stretch. The characters (especially the warden) are pretty well-written and likable for this kind of movie, and I actually kind of found the whole thing feel-good and heartwarming. (I’d say the only other feel-good Seagal movie is Fire Down Below – when he comes back for Marg Helgenberger at the end, it gets me every time).

    In terms of “worst theatrical Seagal release” – The Glimmer Man definitely takes that title.

  4. I agree, HALF PAST DEAD’s biggest downside is that its kind of generic and unmemorable. The only thing that really stuck with me is the part at the beginning where Ja Rule’s body gets flung out of the car at like 90 miles and hour into the windshield of another car. And everyone laughs, haha, funny, oh wacky Sasha, always flinging people out of cars. Walk it off, Ja Rule. To my recollection its the broadest and most outrageous slapstick moment in any Seagal picture (although I’ve only seen as far as TODAY YOU DIE as of yesterday). And the great thing is that it’s the only thing remotely like that in the whole movie, which otherwise is pretty serious. OK, there’s some kind of thing with Kurupt flying around with the missle launcher or whatever, but that’s still borderline survivable and could possibly happen in the real world. The flung-out-of-a-car thing is like something out of a cartoon. Completely inexplicable.

    As to why this one is so low rated, I can only assume its a variety of factors. At the time, the market seemed completely saturated with this kind of PG-13 hong kong/gangsta type pics like this one, so I imagine people were a little tired of them anyway and in no mood to be forgiving of a weak one. I also think unfortunately by this time mainstream audiences had turned on Seagal, and were probably gonna make fun of him no matter what he did. Finally, the movie itself just doesn’t really have much going for it. Everything in it had already been done recently in better movies. There’s not much action, and what little there is is just generic and sometimes confusing (what are there, like 10 major characters? Most of whom have completely different goals?). There’s not really much of a central conflict, since there’s nothing personal at stake – the robbers don’t even really have anything to do with Seagal and he’s only interested in stopping them on general principle. And sorry neal, I have to say I think Ja and Seagal make an akward and uncovincing pair, and it just gave people more ammo to mock Seagal, his acting, and his girth. So really, I think its a movie which tried to have something for everyone and ended up with nothing for anyone. No good action for action fans, but not interesting or coherent enough for anyone else.

    Overall, while not exactly a disaster, the movie’s as bland as they come and unfortunately I think it came along right at the wrong time, when folks were not in the mood to be forgiving. Although it’s one of my least favorite Seagal flick (I even like GLIMMER MAN better, if you can believe it — at least it’s pretty unusual) I don’t think its anywhere near as bad as the movies surrounding it in that list. I just had the bad fortune to come out exactly as people were really turning on Seagal and ready to see him fail.

  5. Also, I think critics were pretty pissed that Exit Wounds was successful, thus affording Seagal a brief comeback, despite their best efforts. They’d hoped to squash him forever with that one, so when he came back with another movie in the same vein a year later, they had their knives sharpened. I haven’t actually seen Half Past Dead, though, so it’s possible that it simply sucks.

  6. oh, it does. But look at the movies surrounding it in that link… those aren’t just bad movies, they’re reprehensible affronts to all that is good in the universe. their use in battle has been called a war crime. Larry the Cable Guy and Friedberg / Seltzer are heavily represented. HALF PAST DEAD isn’t even close to that level, it just sucks in a normal, human way (except for Ja Rule’s apparently rubber body, which sucks in a curiously alien way).

  7. I did see that list, and I was surprised to find that I’d only seen eight of the movies on it. I watch a lot of crap that gets critically reamed, so I figured a few of my favorites would pop up. Instead, the list seemed to focus mostly on shitty comedies, which I don’t see because it’s the only genre of shitty movies that, by definition, isn’t funny. I was happy to see Ballistic at #1, though. I did see that one, and it remember it being absolutely horrendous. And that’s all I remember about it. It completely left my consciousness, leaving behind no trace that it even existed.

  8. I love that BALLISTIC felt it necessary to tack on the subtitle “Ecks vs Sever” as if that would be some kind of selling point. What the heck is an Ecks anyway? Even the title is horrendous, confusing, and displeasing mess. See, if Seagal knows how to do anything, it’s title a film right. He doesn’t deserve to be in the same company as these clowns.

  9. It was like they were trying to trick people into thinking that it was based on a preexisting property. Or possibly two. Maybe they wanted people to think that they had already seen Ballistic Origins: Ecks and The Rise of Sever, so they should be real excited about seeing these two icons facing off, even though that’s not really what the movie was about (aren’t they on the same side most of the time?). The only way that title could have been worse is if they’d thrown a “Requiem” in there for good measure.

  10. Not to lose ALL my credibility on this site, but I actually kinda liked two of the Larry the Cable Guy movies on that list. (Particularly his “hard-working immigrants” speech in Health Inspector). Both Gigli and Battlefield Earth are actually kinda fun only if you’re in an MST3K mood, but I actually straight-up enjoyed The New Guy (easily Eliza Dushku at her finest)- it really doesn’t deserve to be amongst trash like the “___ Movie”‘s. And btw – Cheaper by the Dozen 2? I can’t remember anything about it other than Eugene Levy’s family was called “The Murtaughs” which just made me keep expecting him to say he was too old for this shit.

  11. I will give you The New Guy. It had some funny parts, and the dressing room montage with Eliza was quite, um, moving.

  12. Yup, all credibility lost. We still love you, but in the same way in which we love our drunken, racist grandpa.

  13. That’s not so bad, though. It’s the same way we love Mel Gibson, and he’s awesome.

    Have you heard about that Beaver movie he’s making with Jodi Foster where he’s got a puppet on his hand that he thinks is real? Mel, you just keep following your bliss. I’ll be there.

  14. Majestyk, where does the phrase, “follow your bliss” come from? I knew a guy in high school who had that tatooed on his back. It was back in senior year when everyone got some kind of ink the day they turned 18 because they had nothing else to spend money on.

  15. Mr. S – well that’s what was kinda charming about both Health Inspector and Delta Farce – watching Larry the Cable Guy trying to atone for his racist/homophobic reputation by throwing in some liberal sensitivity, and actually being halfway convincing. Both those movies were no better or worse than the Ace Ventura series. BTW – I like how Tony Hale (Buster) manages to be in both the most critically praised comedy series ever (Arrested Development) and has a major role in Health Inspector. Bizarre.

    And yes, that Beaver movie looks like the smartest comeback vehicle ever.

  16. Brendan, it’s a Joseph Campbell quote. Of course, I only know it because a hippie girl I once knew had it on a T-shirt or something.

  17. neal2zod – That’s bullshit.

    DELTA FARCE insulted me as a southerner. You know Black Face and Yellow Face? Well that bullshit was fucking Red Face. Nevermind its an awful STRIPES/THREE AMIGOS bastard child. Notice how comedies about military recruits have the same cliches at boot camp. Think about it.

    Yes rednecks think wrestling is “real,” everyone one of them are white trailer trash deadbeat dad bums, mistake Mexico for Iraq*, Blow everything up ask questions later**, etc.

    Then again those “hick” comedians fucking piss me off because for the most part, they parlay on stereotypes not from within their community, but as seen from the outside. Does that make any sense?

    And I say “for the most part” because Foxworthy’s first “Redneck” book was classic.***

    *=Really?
    **=Actually that’s true. To an extent. In East Tennessee, we never heard of the Brady Bill.
    ***=”You might be a redneck if you bought a VCR because Pro wrestling was on while you’re at work.” It’s TRUE!!!

  18. RRA – Interesting point – I guess I overlooked the fact that in his futile/well-meaning effort to appeal to more demographics, Larry the Cable Guy ended up insulting southerners, basically by his mere existence/entire routine!

    *=And I guess I’m a true redneck too as I did buy a VCR solely to not miss out on Monday Night RAW/Nitro back in the late 90s. But that shit was awesome back then, so I feel no shame.

  19. neal – more like the guy’s act in general insults me.

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