Blu Ray Title: Half Past Dead
Disk Release Date: 8/12/08
Screen format: 1080P, 1.85:1, High Definition
Studio: Screen Gems / Franchise Picture / Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
First theatrical release: 15 November, 2002
Previous releases on disk: Anamorphic Widescreen DVD on 14 March, 2003
Director: Don Michael Paul
Starring: Steven Seagal, Morris Chestnut, Ja Rule, Nia Peeples, Tony Plana, Kurupt
Sound Formats: English, French & Portuguese Dolby True HD 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Length: 98 Minutes
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (Traditional & Simplified), Thai, Korean
In 2002’s Half Past Dead, Steven Seagal continued his streak of improbable roles as immigrant Sasha Petrocevitch, a high grade car thief with an equally improbable partner in crime, “Nick” Frasier (Ja Rule), a lieutenant for Sonny Eckvall (Richard Bremmer). Nick stands up for Sasha not being a fed, and then the two are almost immediately busted by the FBI while Sonny escapes (and is never seen again during the film). The two are reunited in prison, a revamped Alcatraz with high tech surveillance and other toys, only to have their stay interrupted by an attempted kidnapping of the most high profile prisoner, Lester McKenna (Bruce Weitz). Lester is the only person who knows the location of $200 Million in gold that was never recovered in his botched robbery, which left several agents dead. Lester is set to be the first person executed at New Alcatraz, but, get this, he actually WANTS to be executed for his crimes. Unfortunately for Nick, Sasha really IS deep undercover for the FBI and is trying to get closer to Nick so that he can help the feds take out Sonny, who is responsible for Sasha’s wife’s death.
It’s a total mess. It would be worth watching if the action sequences were halfway decent, but they aren’t. The highpoint in the film is the arming of two inmates (including ‘rapper’ Kurupt) with ridiculously overpowered weapons from the armory and then even that falls flat when they don’t get to use them in any satisfying way.
Even Seagal walks through this one with a bit more than his characteristic low key acting, phoning in the role without even attempting to carry any kind of accent or other methods of distinguishing himself from every other role he’s played. Ja Rule can’t help but look like acting excellence in comparison and Morris Chestnut’s villain (49er1/Don Johnson) is passable if you discount the fact that he has no motivation anyone would care about.
While it’s not saying much, this isn’t the worst Seagal film but it’s definitely on the bottom tier. There’s a few interesting action sequences including a car ‘scene’ (not a chase) that’s ok and Nia Peeple’s channeling of John Woo as her character 49er6 is on track until about the fourth or fifth gratuitous use of swirling leather trenchcoats. But, again, it’s mostly a highly forgettable mess. Look for legendary TV screenwriter Stephen J. Cannel in a rare acting role, and count Kurupt’s scene during the end credits (with someone named Mo’Nique (you can’t make stuff like this up)), along with Lester’s final goodbye as the few highlights to be found here.
Sound Quality: 2.5/5
While Half Past Dead is encoded in three separate Dolby True HD 5.1 versions (English French and Portuguese), I found the sound flat and disappointing throughout, with a lot of muddied dialogue and unimpressive use of gunfire and explosions. There are a few scenes which make effective use of the rear channels but these come so infrequently as to be a distraction rather than a highlight. The musical score is a mess too, with a pile of early 2000 hiphop tracks played with little relationship to the onscreen action and more as a vehicle to advertise the artists relationship to the cast. Bass activity was similarly weak in many spots but overall acceptable.
Visual Quality: 4/5
Visually however there is a bit more to appreciate. Featuring a very sharp transfer that is not shy about revealing deep character lines on the principle actors faces and similar details, I was struck by the use of thin depth of field and the use of moving fields of focus in a few scenes. It is however a very dark film with many scenes occurring in newly abandoned prison cells and poorly lit execution chambers. The car race at the beginning is also held at night. I didn’t notice any print damage, edge effect halos or other artificial looking defects, and if there was any noise/grain reduction applied it was impossible to pick up on in motion. Fine film grain was visible in many scenes as expected and it helped to ground the look of the movie perfectly.
Extra Features: 2.5/5
Extras however are bit slim, although this may change once the official release date is reached. On-disk extras include a director’s commentary track (which I have passed on but might be useful in sorting this mess out), 4 wisely deleted (and truly forgettable) extra scenes, and the theatrical trailer. The standout inclusion is a 'making of' featurette which talks with cast and crew, and it’s clear from those interviews that they had a lot higher expectations for this film than what was ultimately shipped. This disk is BD-Live enabled but those features were unreachable at this time, once they go ‘live’ I will revise this review.
Overall: 2.5/5 (not an average)
It’s rare that I ever find a film a waste of my time and while disappointing I can’t claim that this one hit’s those murky depths either. There are a few chuckles and a couple decent action sequences, but I’d be lying if I didn’t add that I wished for a "Mystery Science Theater" type track to accompany this movie to make fun of Mr. Seagal’s wooden delivery (and less than impressive fighting prowess as he ages) and the bizarre mess that is the plot. I had to make do with my own internal dialogue on that one, and I suggest that most HTF readers will want to either bring their own or supply a heavy suspension of disbelieve for their viewing as well.