Half Past Dead

Half Past Dead (2002)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Steven Segal, Morris Chestnut, Ja Rule
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Featurette, Theatrical Trailer

Don Michael Paul directed his first feature film in 2002 with the forgettable Steven Seagal action film "Half Past Dead" and quickly went back to television. He is also the one responsible for writing the almost impossibly stupid script, although with thrillers like these it's best to leave your disbelief at the door and just go with it. Although it happens to be the only Seagal film I've ever seen, I was still left somewhat confused as to the appeal of not only the star, but these types of films in general. I know this is one of his later films also, it is obvious because he seems tired and chubby, whatever spark that made him an action star to begin with has become dimmed by excess, and he seems to simply be walking through the film. It arrives on Blu-ray now, so let's take a closer look.

Sasha Petrosevitch (Steven Segal) is supposedly a Russian (we only detect the accent a couple of times) car thief who ends up getting shot seven times when the FBI swoops in irresponsibly to bust his unlikely friend Nick (Ja Rule). Sasha has a near death experience filled with haunting montages of his tragic past love (slow motion kisses and all of the familiar elements), who ended up somehow being murdered in a botched carjacking done by a notorious crime syndicate run by Sonny Eckvall (Richard Bremmer) ( Somehow, Nick and Sasha are sentenced to the newly opened and high tech Alcatraz, also known as 'The Rock', where fate will have it resides the incurably corrupt Sonny, and another old criminal named Lester Mckenna (Bruce Weitz) who is about to become the first man executed in this technologically enhanced new (but somehow low budget and cardboard looking) impenetrable fortress. Lester also happens to be sitting on a 200,000,000 dollar secret, which means he is a much sought after villain, not just by our out of breathe karate master, but others as well.

As the unimaginably dumb plot thickens (or rather stumbles upon itself), Sasha reveals he is actually an FBI agent who has been training with Nick all this time just to get close to this crime boss Sonny and in with the syndicate, even if he has to get five years behind bars. Sasha doesn't have a life, he is obsessed with revenge, or supposedly obsessed, he seems more into Krispy Crème these days judging from his double chin, and his concealed by camera tricks paunch. It's almost like watching a comedy about a down and out action star, really. And that permanently stupefied look on his face makes it seem like he only read the script once, right before the cameras rolled. Of course his better half was slaughtered by the bad guys, but this is easy to forget since the director throws in so many impossibly funny subplots.

So for whatever reason, the money or revenge for the anguish laced flashback sequences Segal is forced to endure, he goes undercover to meet with this greasy mobster (who is about the most clichéd bad guy you can imagine), and it turns out Sonny wants to talk with him about the Other Side (is this about as existential as a Segal movie gets or what, I have a feeling he has a near death experience in all of his films, along with a dead lover), a place he is about to become a permanent guest of. And this dialogue is bad, I mean beyond bad, the film was destined for permanent repeat on TNT or USA network, it seems designed for commercial interruption.

Don Michael Paul also throws in a squad of commandos (who dress in black and look like rent a cops from the local mall and can't even stand guard with a machine gun convincingly) who are out to break into the prison to somehow get the money, and a female Supreme Court Justice is kidnapped also, just to add to the tension. The action scenes are so cheaply done and the stunts are so unconvincing, this is the type of film where when someone falls over a railing you see them bounce back a little from the trampoline. And what's with all the harmless rocket launchers and machine guns going off? You will swear that you see the same person get killed three times because of the poor editing, the movie just wants to be loud and shoot guns and blow things up for no good reason than that's what action movies are supposed to do. And why is Nick content to be the sidekick to this late era Elvis action hero, isn't he a bad guy? Didn't Sasha betray him all this time? Perhaps he just wants to blow things up while rap music plays in the background.

As you can clearly see, this film is only worth watching for a laugh, but still it has arrived on my favorite home video format for whatever reason (and yes there is a sequel, this must have been a hit).

Visually the film actually looks quite good and better than I expected. It features an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and it is quite sharp for this extremely dark film. The black levels hold up nicely and any evidence of print damage or edge enhancement is kept to a minimum. It also is very film like, it seems they have kept the noise reduction pleasantly toned down, it features a subtle amount of film grain here and there that adds to the theater like effect of watching an actual film not some overly digital alteration.

As for the sound, I expected a bit more since this features a few Dolby TrueHD tracks, but I was underwhelmed with the sound quality on this release and I expected more. An action film with lots of explosions and gunfire would seem to lend itself to aggressive surround channels and lots of bass, but that is seldom heard on this track, which actually sounds quite dull and oftentimes the dialogue (which is inane, just to remind you) is difficult to make out. I think this film was poorly recorded to begin with and the Dolby TrueHD track certainly brings that to our attention.

The special features are thankfully light, since the film was so unbearable; we have a commentary track with the director in which he does a lot more watching than actual talking. We also have four deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer and a short making of featurette that features cast and crew. In the featurette you often wonder if they are making the same film you just watched because they seem to really believe in the project.

Either way, this film is a complete train wreck and I find it odd they released it on Blu-ray, but I guess it must have its fans. The picture quality is pretty good, it really makes the budget limitations quite obvious, though, and 'Alcatraz' looks more like a a cheap stage than anything else. Everything about this film is wrong headed and it is so bad it is unintentionally funny. I may never understand the appeal of Steven Segal after watchi9ng this film. Enter at your own risk