Originally created 11/15/02

At the Movies: 'Half Past Dead'



What if they reopened Alcatraz? What if they tried to graft a personality onto Steven Seagal? What if they tried both in the same movie?

The result would be "Half Past Dead," which fails as miserably at personalizing the leaden Seagal as it does at injecting any note of credibility into the idea of taking the island prison out of mothballs.

Written and directed by Don Michael Paul, "Half Past Dead" may be the year's funniest unintentional comedy for its inane plot, repetitive, unimaginative stunts and dreadful dialogue.

But then, this is a Steven Seagal movie, so maybe you already knew that.

After such action hits as the "Under Siege" movies, Seagal made a string of bombs and was out of sight for a few years till a comeback last year with "Exit Wounds," which debuted as the No. 1 flick at least partly because of the appeal of his co-star, rapper DMX.

This time, Seagal's teamed with two rappers, Ja Rule and Kurupt, and "Half Past Dead" is awash in hip-hop tunes and music-video quick cuts, all intended to bring youth appeal to a paunchy, fiftysomething hero.

Seagal plays Sascha Petrosevitch, an undercover FBI guy infiltrating the organization of a crime lord whose carjacking operations left Sascha's wife dead. ("She was the best of me," Sascha mutters with somewhat less passion than a cadaver.)

Ja Rule is Nick, who brought Sascha into the gang. During an inexplicable FBI raid on the thieves' hangout, Sascha preposterously maintains his cover by taking seven bullets from his fellow agents to save Nick's life. Sascha flat-lines for 22 minutes (he's now half past dead, get it?), before he's revived, healed and shipped off to newly refurbished Alcatraz to continue the charade with Nick.

Before you can say "willing suspension of disbelief be damned," a handful of crooks parachute in and easily seize the prison from its army of guards, who apparently came to Alcatraz after being fired for incompetence from Toys R Us night watchmen jobs.

Led by a disgruntled prison bureaucrat (Morris Chestnut) and a martial-arts bimbo (Nia Peeples), the bad guys stop the execution of a gold thief (Bruce Weitz) and make hostages of his death-row witnesses, including the Supreme Court justice (Linda Thorson) who presided in the case. The thugs are after the location of $200 million in gold bricks, whose whereabouts the thief has sworn to take to the grave.

From then on, it's nothing but Seagal kicking the tar out of people with help from fellow inmates (Kurupt among them). The action is choppy, probably from editing to sanitize the violence and avoid an R rating, though some of it results from inept staging (in one close-up, Seagal looks as if he's playing pattycake rather than fighting hand-to-hand).

Worse than the stunts is the laughable dialogue, overloaded with macho taunts and cumbersome, phony crime-world jargon. The movie hits a comical lowpoint as ringleader Chestnut psychoanalyzes the high court justice's choice to put career ahead of marriage and family ("You forgot about love, didn't you? Your biological clock ticking, and your field went fallow."). Half past rotten stuff, this.

"Half Past Dead," released by Sony's Screen Gems banner, is rated PG-13 for pervasive action violence, language and some sexual content. Running time: 89 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G - General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG - Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 - Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R - Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 - No one under 17 admitted.