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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Half Past Dead (2002)

"No, I love America. My cause is me."
- Donny (Morris Chestnut)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: March 17, 2003

Stars: Stephen Seagal, Morris Chestnut, Ja Rule
Other Stars: Nia Peeples, Tony Plana, Kurupt
Director: Don Michael Paul

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for pervasive action violence, language, and some sexual content
Run Time: 01h:38m:25s
Release Date: March 04, 2003
UPC: 043396087842
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ CA-A- B

DVD Review

Few moments are as unwelcome to film critics as viewing a new Steven Seagal action picture (does he make any other kind?). His pudgier, less-agile 2002 form makes us long for his wrist-breaking antics on such hits as Under Siege and Hard to Kill. After several bombs in recent years, I thought we might have seen the last of the now middle-aged Seagal. However, the surprising success of the DMX-paired Exit Wounds seems to have added a slight jolt to his career. Unfortunately, any momentum comes to a grinding halt with Half Past Dead, a "Die Hard on Alcatraz" thriller that showcases little of Seagal's former action prowess.

Although it will draw incessant comparisons to The Rocka far superior and larger-budget action epic&$8212this picture actually does vary considerably from that story. Much of the difference stems from the pairing of Seagal with big-time rapper Ja Rule, who performs about as well as expected. He exudes a decent screen presence, but his few attempts at any type of serious emotion are laughable. Even Seagal tops Rule when delivering a more stoic demeanor. The most accomplished lead actor present is Morris Chestnut, who plays the heavy with considerable charm and flair. While limited by an unfortunately simple script, he still injects a fresh energy into the generic plot.

Seagal stars as Russian Sascha Petrosevitch, a "deep cover" FBI agent spending jail time with small-time criminal Nick Frazier (Ja Rule) in Alcatraz to trap a larger fish. Shortly following their arrival, Donny (Chestnut) and his high-tech gang of criminals infiltrate the prison to capture a well known death-row inmate. This master thief stole $200 million in gold, and the government still has no idea of its whereabouts. Donny has concocted a clever scheme to satisfy his greed, which will set him up for life. Unfortunately, he didn't count on Sascha being here to thwart his plans. Once the prisoners start to fight back against Donny's team, the ensuing mayhem leads to plenty of action and PG-13 style carnage.

Although few viewers have considered Seagal a top-notch actor, there has been considerable respect for his fighting skills. Unfortunately, the days of lengthy, hand-to-hand fight scenes of dazzling martial arts are long gone for the bloated actor. First-time film director Don Michael Paul utilizes quick cuts and odd angles to hide Seagal's girth and lesser mobility. One dangerous aerial stunt is filmed from such a large distance that I could have been subbing myself for the once-proud action star. The 51-year-old actor still has not fallen prey to the digital-effects silliness of Van Damme in the recent lemon Derailed, but his career appears headed in that direction.

Even given its numerous shortcomings, Half Past Dead does provide a fast-moving, energetic ride. Everyone seems to be having a lot of fun, but virtually nothing new exists here, with the possible exception of Ja Rule's major role. His performance rests in the lower-middle in terms of musical artists (I use the term loosely) acting in films. Nia Peeples also deserves a mention for playing a tough, fashion-conscious woman who destroys virtually everyone in her path. Tony Plana injects some charisma into a one-note role as the prison warden, and rapper Kurupt induces plenty of groans playing an unfunny inmate. The overall result is mindless junk, but it should please teenage boys and diehard action fans.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Half Past Dead appears in an impressive 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents Don Michael Paul's attempt at stylish directing in an effective light. Much of the film does take place within the dark prison confines, so the picture does contain some grainy moments, but the overall effect is acceptable. While not among the very best transfers, this one still provides an enjoyable viewing experience. An option also exists for a 1.33:1 pan-and-scan transfer, which offers the usual limitations.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This release utilizes plenty of noisy rap sounds and metal music to complement its countless action scenes. They resonate nicely on the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer, which offers a worthwhile complexity. The rear speakers work well to provide a more definitive experience, and the front speakers give considerable power. This track is not as pristine as the best DTS tracks, but it ranks among the better Dolby Digital transfers I've heard recently.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring I Spy, National Security, XXX
3 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Don Michael Paul
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Half Past Dead features a decent collection of extras that should please its fans. The most notable is a commentary track by writer/director Don Michael Paul, who has tremendous enthusiasm for the project. He uses silly terms like calling the story a "hip-hop opera" and truly believes it varies from anything done in the past. This film was entitled "The Rock" when originally conceived 10 years ago, but it was changed for obvious reasons.

This disc also includes a groan-inducing promotional featurette that offers virtually nothing of value. It runs for 13 minutes and offers the usual intervews with the director and main stars. Paul speaks about how it's a "happening" film and has a tremendous "funness." Blah. Along with the dull behind-the-scenes footage, we also receive the customary promotional narration.

The remaining supplements include three deleted scenes and trailers for this film, I Spy, National Security, and XXX. The cut moments include an interesting 90-second scene that flashes back to the death of Sascha's wife. It would have provided more weight to the story, but possibly would have made it too sad and violent. The other quick moments are unnecessary and add little to the overall production.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

The title Half Past Dead refers to the near-death experience of Seagal's character after being shot numerous times. Mixed within this story is a sad tale of his dead wife and the character's need for vengeance. Unfortunately, this plot element barely registers and only serves as a device to explain him being on Alcatraz. Maybe greater emphasis on this area could have saved the film, but that probably is not the case. This picture is not the worst action release of the year, but it provides little original ideas beyond the basic formula.


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