Friday Fisticuffs: Half Past Dead (2002)

For quite a while, I had Half Past Dead confused with Exit Wounds. Both star Steven Seagal and a rapper, Ja Rule in the former and DMX in the latter. Both involve crime and guns and whatnot. That and they came out right after each other.

I believe I saw Half Past Dead in the theaters when it came out. I’m guessing it was during a trip home from college because I remember seeing it with my friends from home. I think. Maybe we rented it? All I really remembered was that Seagal was a SPOILER good guy in jail, a helicopter featured prominently inside a prison and the title refers to the fact that Seagal had technically died and been brought back to life. To elaborate, while working with Ja Rule, Seagal gets shot and almost dies. When he gets better he gets transferred to a newly open Alcatraz along with Ja. While there, he gets asked to talk to a man about to be exeuted because he wants to know what’s on the other side. At that point, a group of highly trained foot soldiers and their leader Morris Chestnut (hey, remember Morris Chestnut?) break in. As it happens the execution guy stole a ton of money and is going to die with his secret unless they can get the info out of him and claim the money for themselves.

Sounds kinda cool, right? It’s not. And mostly because it tries SO DAMN HARD to be cool without making any sense while doing it. The prison itself is about the most laughable I’ve ever seen. The inmates are used to help retrofit it which means they get to use power tools, which they insist on using while the new inmates line up to get introduced to the bad ass warden. Speaking of the warden, you can tell he’s cool because he don’t take not shit, he has a fire tattoo going up his neck AND he wears a leather jacket. The inmates are given all kinds of liberties, like not getting shot in the face when they assault guards on the way into the prison. Oh, they also get to wear prison issued clothes that look like a cross between JNCO and a Missy Elliot video.

And that’s just the “good guys.” The invaders all look like they got their clothes straight out of the Matrix, especially Nia Peeples who puts on her leather duster while still out in the rain and yet never looks wet again. Haha, I almost forgot, this is also the prison with the absolute best stock of weapons and the absolute worst security. Seriously, one dude walks around with a gun that looks like the Gatling gun out of Predator.

But the fighting has to be at least trying to be on par with The Matrix, right? What a silly question, of course not! The better fight scenes are actually between Ja Rule (or his stunt double) and people like a guard or Peeples. People get kicked and punched and thrown much further than physics should allow, but I guess that’s part of the awesomeness. Then you’ve got Seagal who looks more like your dad than a martial arts expert. I think this is the biggest he ever looked on screen (at least in the movies I’ve seen) and his fights are just pitiful. You’re generally treated to very quick cuts of him or his opponent doing a move and then moving to a different angle altogether and a different move. To me, this means that he wasn’t in near enough shape for big huge fight scenes (or the editor sucks). It’s not like a Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or Tony Jaa fight where you could put the camera 20 feet back and see something amazing if you just let it roll.

At the end of the day, most of the action in this movie involves gunplay instead of fisticuffs, which is a bummer. It’s definitely not a good movie, but it is a great movie to watch with friends, preferably while drinking. It would make for an excellent episode of one of my favorite podcasts How Did This Get Made?!

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