Half Past Dead

Three things you can do that would be less painful than sitting through Steven Seagal’s latest film “Half Past Dead”:

Cover your head in honey and stick it down an ant hole.

Go clothes shopping with the Olsen twins.

Sit through an IRS audit.

I used to like Steven Seagal movies. They were mindless fun. Now they’re just mindless. Like all one-note action stars that came before and after, Seagal is no longer a lethal weapon at the box office, but his acting is still lethal. Seagal is too old and too fat to do what he used to do best: kick ass.

Now he’s lucky if he can haul ass, lugging around a double chin that has more moves than he does. Director Don Michael Paul does Seagal a favor by keeping him in the shadows or in extreme close-up, which eventually backfires when we’re forced to appreciate Seagal’s acting up close and personal.

Except for that untalented hack who does those Survival auto insurance commercials, most actors learn through experience and get better with age. Seagal is worse now than when he first arrived on the scene in 1988’s “Above the Law.” His biggest, and best film, was “Under Siege,” a 1993 adventure-thriller that pitted him against terrorists aboard a navy battleship.

“Under Siege” was so popular, and showcased Seagal in his best light, that a sequel was released three years later. It bombed, a desperate attempt by a studio and a star looking to reclaim their former glory. With most of his films going directly to video or cable, Seagal and writer-director Paul return to “Under Siege” for the inspiration of “Half Past Dead.”

“Half Past Dead” was originally titled “Lockdown,” but was (obviously) changed to three words to sound more like Seagal’s hits “Above the Law,” “Marked for Death,” “Out for Justice,” and “Hard to Kill.” Hey, if it worked in the past. Unfortunately, changing the name of this film is the least of its problems..

Seagal plays an FBI agent working undercover as a car thief who infiltrates a crime family by befriending career criminal Nick Frazier (Ja Rule). When an FBI sting threatens his cover, Sascha (Seagal) takes a couple of bullets, and ends up clinically dead for 22 minutes. After eight months of recovery, Sascha is sent to the new high tech version of Alcatraz, where he hopes to continue his surveillance.

Sascha’s mission is impeded when the prison is taken over by terrorists, intent on extracting the location of $200 million in gold from a prisoner set to die in the new high tech death chamber. With everyone in lock down, including visiting Supreme Court and city officials there to inaugurate the new chamber, it’s up to Sascha and his partner in crime (Ja Rule) to save the day.

Not only does former actor-turned-director/writer Paul rip off “Under Siege,” which benefitted from a smart script by J. W. Lawton and strong direction by Andrew Davis (“The Fugitive”), he borrows liberally from “The Rock.” There isn’t one original idea in “Half Past Dead,” a preposterous by-the-numbers action-thriller that is painful to sit through.

Paul is extremely flaccid as a director, allowing Seagal to drown in a sea of his own excess. He’s not acting, he’s mugging. If you think the premise is tired, look at the expressions on Seagal’s face. Even he looks bored, especially in the fight scenes, which lack the visual punch of a seasoned director. The framing is all wrong, perhaps an intentional diversion to draw away from the fact that Seagal isn’t all that he used to be.

The rest of the cast go through the motions, never allowed to become anything more than cliches: the sophisticated terrorist, his deadly female sidekick, the charismatic warden, the pompous judge. Set them up, knock them down, because they are nothing more than pieces in badly executed chess match. We’ve seen them all before, and much better.

“Half Past Dead” has an economical look, suggesting even the studio wasn’t willing to bankroll a Seagal film that couldn’t make back its money on video and cable. The production values are decent, much of the film was shot in the rain, but the musical score by Tyler Bates is familiar and overused.

In a desperate attempt to market Seagal to young males, who could care less, “Half Past Dead” has been rated PG-13, allowing the filmmakers to come close to but not achieve the bone- crunching intensity of earlier Seagal films. If audiences won’t accept Seagal, what makes filmmakers think they’ll go for Seagal Lite?


Former action star career “Half Past Dead”


Steven Seagal, Morris Chestnut, Ja Rule, Nia Peebles, Tony Plana, Linda Thorson. Directed by Don Michael Paul. Rated PG-13.


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