Half Past Dead Movie Review

Martin Boris Velanov is the hardest working man in show business. According to the end credits for the prison thriller Half Past Dead, Mr. Velanov works full-time (some would say "overtime") as the stand-in for Steven Seagal, a past-his-prime action hero mistakenly labeled as marketable after his last endeavor, Exit Wounds, found an audience.

By my calculations - and this is far from scientific - Seagal appears in approximately 15% of his own scenes. The rest of the time, director Don Michael Paul uses quick-cuts, (very) large shadows and wide-angle shots taken from a distance to hide the liberal use of a body double. So why use Seagal at all? Is he really a draw? An effective marketing tool?

This time out, Seagal plays an FBI agent working deep undercover at the New Alcatraz prison facility the night it's infiltrated by armed assailants. Led by the domineering 49er One (Morris Chestnut), this mini-army seeks to capture Lester McKenna (Bruce Weitz), a passive prisoner carrying out a death sentence for unintentionally murdering police officers during a hit on a U.S. money train. Lester's in the hot seat because he hid his stash, worth $200 million in gold bars, and has yet to reveal the fortune's location.

Dead earned a PG-13 rating, which means bullets fly but rarely connect. Any fatalities incurred (and there are very few) happen off-screen. Pyrotechnics send bodies catapulting through windows and doors, while people emerge with nary a scratch. There are countless scenes where characters face off approximately six feet from each other and begin firing weapons... but no one ever gets hit.

Director Don Michael Paul certainly doesn't embarrass himself in his feature film debut. His influences, however, are evident, having helmed episodes of USA Network schlock like Renegade, Pacific Blue, and Silk Stalkings. Paul has a habit of framing his actors from forehead to chin (or chins, in Seagal's case). He employs every visual trick in the book, though his obvious favorite appears to be the slow-motion shot. It's used far too often here.

Chestnut - who's been in better - makes a suitable villain. Driven by greed, 49er One balances sadism with sleaze. To his credit, Chestnut actually tries to act in this dead-end production. I guess he didn't get the memo that went out to rapping co-stars Ja Rule and Kurupt which mistakenly informed them that acting chops could be substituted with attitude. One of 49er One's shadowy goons does stand out from the crowd. Played by sexy vamp Nia Peeples, 49er Six could evolve into a new action star, given the right marketing push. Brutish, sleek, and steely, she looks like the girl Carrie Anne Moss beat out for The Matrix.

Towards the end of the film, a convict played by Rule climbs into the cockpit of a downed helicopter (don't ask) and mans the vehicle's gun port. "This is just like a video game," he shouts. So where's the reset button?

Yep, exactly half past dead.


Half Past Dead Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, 2002


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