Watching bad movies is a fun hobby but difficult to describe to others outright. I’ve never had success with mentioning that I liked bad movies in conversation unless whoever I was speaking to knew about MST3K; usually getting a curious look or an eye roll as a response. Thankfully, after graduating high school and learning that not everyone had the personality of a self-obsessed brick wall, I started to learn how to properly discuss my odd hobby. Nuance was the key, and coincidentally is something Half Past Dead doesn’t understand.
Half Past Dead stars Steven Seagal in the role of a reputable car booster who gets caught up in a bad bust with his friend and is sent to Alcatraz 2.0. That’s right, The Rock has opened its doors again and is offering many means for incarceration, and for finality. Alcatraz houses some of the most dangerous criminals in this films universe, including one of the worst they have to offer. An old man playing the role of a modern-day pirate.
He’s robbed banks in his younger years, hidden a crate full of gold bars; and is slated to be executed for his crimes. It’s up to Seagal to find out where the gold is hidden, for he is undercover. That is indeed a spoiler, but a lackluster one for two reasons. Those reasons being his true allegiance being written on the back of the box, and being so easily anticipated as a plot point that you start to make a tally of cliches specifically for Seagal films. Yes, I have made one. It’s gotten to being two pages long now.
Another easily seen plot point is an actual introduction of tension. It appears another force wants the old man alive and is willing to storm a fortified prison to do it. Naturally, for film, the prison instead has a skeleton crew comprised of incompetence, resulting in a successful penetration for the team via helicopter. After the main villain is introduced, along with the one notable hench(wo)man and the faceless rest, the helicopter successfully penetrate the prison again, violently.
The inmate block is no longer secure, and the invading force lost their escape plan. It is about as ripe as any time for a hostage situation, and a high ranking judge is conveniently here for Old Man’s execution. The song and dance occurs for hostage films: “Helicopter or the hostage dies,” and now Seagal must rescue the judge.
This film is honestly just a mash of scenes that either make or break the movie for you depending on how much you can suspend your disbelief. I also think this movie can be slotted as near the beginning of Seagal’s Slap Fu phase of his film career. That jab aside, I do have to admit the physical combat in this film is actually above the average expected from a Seagal film.
It feels off to describe it as “grounded”, but it is actually true. Fights between Seagal and a foe feel like they’re real, with the fight going either way. When Seagal has something other than his mitts to handle a foe is where the film skips into disbelief suspension territory again.
While I mentioned that Seagal films can have their predictable writing cliches talliable, Half Past Dead had the uncommon ability to do things I didn’t expect. The uncaring psychopath cliché looked like it was going to appear when the main villain took his gun and shot his own subordinates. Keep in mind that at the same time, the Judge’s security detail had guns pointed at these very same guards. Surprising both me and the late guards, the gun-downed goons rise back up and waste the guards. They were wearing powerful body armor. My mouth was open and I felt joy. This would not be the only time this film made me smile.
The second time I smiled was when they actually used the helicopter, now stuck in the ceiling of the inmate block, for the firefight following the exchange of prisoners. Seagal’s buddy manned the gun via a digital eyepiece, and the idiot special forces below shoot at the helicopter as if it weren’t armored. The fact that they actually used the helicopter and didn’t leave it for just eye candy was a pleasant experience.
Now, this is something both fans and loathers of bad movies can both enjoy, the ending. The latter for it being nearly over, and the former for what transpires. The Old Man was successfully taken by the special forces, but there are two things you need to know for context. First, he became born again in prison. Second, he was ready to die for his crimes.
If you look at the image above, this is the exact moment before the Old Man pulls the pin of a hidden grenade vest. This finale is set to the DMX track of “Ima bang,” and the following happens with the music. The track has DMX growling as the camera zooms in on the villains face, and as the helicopter explodes you hear “IMA BANG!” Whether or not it was intentional, this made Half Past Dead for me.
Half Past Dead would be a great movie for situations where you have time to kill and want to do it in the laziest way possible. It is a movie that is easy for anyone to enjoy, whether they like or ‘like’ Steven’s films. As with most of his works: if you’re expecting Oscar material, you’re really in the wrong territory; but it is enjoyable nonetheless.