|There comes a time in every actor's life when he needs to put down the script and move on to different, or perhaps better things. That time seems very close for Steven Seagal. His cinematic career has slowly decreased in value over the past decade and there seems to be no sign that audiences can look forward to future improvements as every film he's completed since 1992's Under Siege has been a step in the wrong direction. While fans of mindless action movies might get a kick out of Half Past Dead, this picture probably won't have wide cross-over appeal.|
Last year's Exit Wounds could be considered a mild improvement (mostly due to the involvement of DMX in the picture), that film had much more brain to it than Half Past Dead. It seems that the screenwriters for this movie thought that minimalism in its most severe nature would work best for the plot, because there is a scant amount of depth in any of the characters. And the background information given on a few of the characters seems to have been included mostly as an afterthought, like it was made up on set.
As an action film constructed solely for the sake of filming impressive martial arts moves and copious amounts of machine gun bullets, this film is packed from beginning to end with karate chops, whip-pans from the camera, and wise cracking remarks from the stereotypical black members of the multi-racial cast. But hyper cinematography or not, this film has so many implausible elements to it, that even the humorous African Americans can't cover up the poor excuse for a plot.
"When good guys get trapped in bad situations that make heroes out of them whether they like it or not" is the M.O. of this picture, but because Steven Seagal uses the same dark, brooding persona that he's used in every film he's ever made, the whole situation is really too hilarious to take seriously. Though Ja Rule and Kurupt, both with limited feature film experience, make good additions to the cast, the fact that Seagal's name is above the title doesn't do the movie any favors. In fact, some of the dialogue that he utters so eloquently borders on the ridiculous.
That element might be one of the film's largest failings. There's no doubt that all of the rappers in this film and bad guy Morris Chestnut are an impressive and many times entertaining group of actors, the story is just so loopy (really, there's no other word), that their jokes are probably the best part of the movie. And the fact that the casting director included a strong woman character in the piece is also a mark in its favor. Claudia Christian plays one of the armed hostage-takers, and though she has absolutely no motivation, her action sequences are impressive.
Part of what makes an action film exciting is a heart-stopping story that makes the audience wonder whether the hero is going to come out of the situation unharmed or whether he'll sacrifice his own life for some kind of greater good. But because the story seems so implausible, the plot really seems just thrown in there for a few laughs. And laughter is this picture's best friend. When there's a character on the screen making a joke, either verbal or physical, the movie becomes entertaining, if only for a moment. And the karate chop scenes are choreographed well, even if they are not revolutionary.
This film is hard and fast proof that one cannot make a film based entirely on how well a movie star can look on screen while being the quintessential hero in a world of bad guys and evil plots. But Seagal's hero status is not as impressive as it was a decade ago, and his routine is more used and abused than new and fresh. Which it could be, if the screenwriters had taken the story seriously. Just because a picture is in the action genre, doesn't mean it needs to neglect completely the finer points of storytelling.
This film seems to be the result of a hurried production and a quick production to screen process whose major thrust was to get Steven Seagal on screen as another action hero before his star fades completely. Seagal has proven in the past that he can make an entertaining action film, but this effort almost resembles the recent comedy offerings from Adam Sandler. It's like he's so used to the character he always plays, that he doesn't really try to put a new spin on it.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.