Steven Seagal is certainly showing his age in Half Past Dead. To ardent fans of his tough-guy act, this might be a bad thing. To those of us just looking for a good film, I think it’s actually a good thing. With Seagal’s ass-kicking held more in check there appears more room for a story to grow. This one is above average. Seagal’s age also means a stronger supporting cast and this one has a nice one. Mia Peoples is stunning as one of the main villains. Ja Rule and Kurupt add the necessary urban reality and some comedy relief when called for. Morris Chestnut is a believable baddie and Hill Street Blues alum Bruce Weitz provides a very refreshing convicted killer found God. Don Michael Paul does a splendid job as director. The story moves constantly and the fight scenes are neatly filmed. You’ll find enough bullets and martial arts to fill a Matrix sequel, but for a change they aren’t extended dance scenes but rather tightly staged moments of action.
Sasha (Seagal) is an undercover FBI agent in deep cover as a prisoner at New Alcatraz. His mission is to get close to a kingpin’s trusted lieutenant by serving time together. At the same time a convicted killer (Weitz) is about to die taking to his grave the location of $200 million. A crew of high-tech thugs take over the prison in an attempt to get the killer to reveal the location of the loot. Now Sasha has to take on, ala Die Hard, the band of thieves.
This is an impressive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. While not overly aggressive, the mix uses all channels for a convincing experience. Without heavy bombardment you will find yourself square in the action at all times. You’ll find clean highs and powerful lows when needed. Dialogue is always relatively clear. The urban music which provides most of the film’s score is at times a little higher in the mix than I would like.
There is an audio commentary by Don Michael Paul. No one can accuse this director of any lack of enthusiasm. His passion for the film borders on delusions of grandeur. He sees the film as far more important that it really is, but I like that in a director.
Half Past Dead is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This is a visually awesome transfer. You will be hard pressed to find a cleaner and more crisp picture. It is nearly flawless. Colors come alive in all of their splendid glory. Flesh tones are dead on reference. Blacks are as deep and detailed as I have seen anywhere. Don Michael Paul’s excellent use of lighting to carefully craft the appropriate atmosphere is handled almost to perfection. Definitely one of the best transfers I have seen to date.
There are three minor deleted scenes that actually add to the story. I’m not sure exactly why, but these scenes are accompanied by gray bars above and below the letterbox instead of the traditional black. It can be distracting but these are very short scenes. The “Making Of Half Past Dead” feature is the typical promotional piece we’ve seen time and again. The trailer rounds out a healthy collection of bonus materials.
I’m not particularly a big Seagal fan but I liked this film quite a bit. I hope it is a sign of better things to come from the more mature Seagal. Don’t get me wrong, all of the old elements are there: dead wife, thrown into a violent situation, relationship troubles, and a super villain. It will satisfy all the old fans. If he’s thinking of teaming up with Don Michael Paul again I’d say, “Go for it”.