Review: “Half Past Dead”

Under Siege clone #82, “Half Past Dead” manages to set at least one record – to be one of the worst prison movies made. Jailhouse settings have been the stage for some of the more impressive US productions in the last ten years in both film (“The Shawshank Redemption”) and television (HBO’s brilliant “Oz”) whilst only a few months back we were treated to the surprisingly astute drama of “Undisputed”.

However every year there’s the pre-requisite stinker (ala “The Last Castle”, “Escape from Absolom”, etc) and this year, its “Half Past Dead”. It’s your standard 80’s Seagal action thriller and minus an interesting plot and some of the more elaborate stunts he could do when his gut size in inches was less than his age.

The first half of the movie struggles to get any sort of a pace going as it sets up events in ‘New Alcatraz’, the prison of the future which rather looks like a cement factory of today (in actuality its an old East Berlin prison). Commandos break into the jail, take the standard powerful pen pusher hostage and demand to find out where a lot of money is – albeit this time from an old inmate Lester inside whose hidden it away.

The cast actually does a little better than one would expect with the utterly flat characters – Ja Rule does ok as the standard sidekick, Bruce Weitz makes Lester an interesting character, and B5 actress Claudia Christian delivers her standard ‘tough cop’ routine. Morris Chestnut spends most of his time doing the over the top psychotic bad guy though he and his hostage (Linda Thorson) do have the film’s most memorable conversation when he grills her on what she gave up to get her job.

The second half picks up a bit as the fighting gets going with Xin Xin Xiong making good use of the large setting whilst Ja Rule and commando babe Nia Peeples have a quite fun one-on-one fight which is the highlight of the movie.

However this sort of material is hard for today’s audiences to buy, even fans of Seagal’s older stuff who are more forgiving than most will be hard pressed to put this up with his far better work whether it be the serious action of “Hard to Kill” to the camp value fun of “Under Siege 2”. Then again maybe they should show this film in prison, inmates will be screaming to be rehabilitated.