Half Past Dead Review
The story goes that Bill Shankly on buying Larry Lloyd for Liverpool as his new centre-half invited the local media to take a tour around the colossal player. The intent was to establish his sheer physical size, to strike fear into the hearts of opponents and to create awe in the journos present. Something similar has happened with Steven Seagal's later career as an action star. Rather than impress filmgoers with his skills, hairline or physical definition, the viewer has been invited to simply stare in awe of the man and consequently fail to notice his girth, immobility or indeed performance.
Various directors have taken on the challenge of covering up their statuesque star and certain strategies have worked better than others. Firstly, appeal to the cool kids by casting a black sports star or a rapper alongside him. Secondly, get the stuntmen to do all the work by exaggerating the impact of Seagal's handiwork. Thirdly, always shoot Seagal from the waist up so as not to emphasise how little he moves - this is a motion picture after all. Finally, never, never give him love scenes and let the bad guys get the long dialogue(it'll be audible that way).
Don Michael Paul's Half Past Dead is a very deliberate attempt to play to the crowd. From the first moment, the hip hop soundtrack is banging into your face and rather than introduce Seagal with arthritic action he is shown as a red hot driver. Bullets bang and boom all around him and the amazing clarity and definition of the gunfire detract from any attention that you may waste on the lead actor. Ja Rule is his bro and soon the two of them will be up to the necks in trouble in a new hi tech prison under attack from rogue soldiers.
So the mumbling pony-tailed one is black friendly, he's banging and down with the street, isn't it. The prison he spends our time in is full of cute and trendy characters, and the guards are faceless white, probably racist, dudes - the homies are certainly being kept down by the man. The baddies are dressed like Matrix refugees and do cool kung fu, and well that girl, she's just hot. No one talks too long or too difficult and even the evil looking bloke on death row has made his peace with the Lord.
No difficult issues about right and wrong, no difficult drama to make you think, this is a movie that goes down better than the sweetest smoothie you could ever have. On the evidence of this, the writer director has a long career ahead of him making empty dumb films for the masses that make everyone cooler just by watching them. It's a living alright, just ask Michael Bay.
Still, it is meant to be silly and the tongue is occasionally in the cheek as satire is given a little bit of exercise. This prison is a response to the scum of society, and has a nearly all black population. The judge who came to watch the condemned prisoner executed is put in the chair herself, and the people who use the prison to hold others become the prisoners themselves whilst their survival is dependent on the criminal fraternity. The sheer extent of the hyperbole in the action is daring and importantly Seagal doesn't end up seeming like a lumbering numpty.
For all the obvious limitations of the actor, his films are often enjoyable rubbish and Half Past Dead is certainly one of the better ones in recent years. Like the choice of Ching Siu-Tung for Belly of the Beast, the main reason for that is the peppy calculated populist direction.
It's DUMB but it's not bad.
With style crammed into every orifice, the visuals of the film are incredibly important and I need to say that the transfer here is very good indeed. The dark, high contrast look of the film is backed up by excellent black levels, shadow detail and very good definition. Colours look very nice, the flesh tones betray no hint of digital jiggery pokery and the edges are clean and natural.
For larger screenshot (1920 x 1080) open this link in a new page
The audio comes, like Sony's Maximum Risk release, in True HD 5.1 format which again downmixed on my system. I can say though that this is a track which bangs out the music and the mayhem equally clearly and with a scarily full definition when it comes to the bullets and the ricochets. Nothing close to distortion or source imperfections and Dutch and French viewers get subs on the extras as well.
The director's commentary reveals that he borrowed some footage from Michael Bay and that his desire with the movie was to "punch up the fun" and make a "hip-hop opera". Paul is a fluent talker who admires his cast and points out how OTT the film is, and he is unashamed of re-editing after preview screenings. He also contributes to the making of featurette which shows that the movie was made in Berlin and covers the casting of all, the cult of Seagal and includes the cast praising the director. The deleted scenes included are not especially memorable and have been removed for pacing - be warned that there is a Seagal romantic flashback which might just turn your stomach.
Trailers for other Sony products complete the disc which has an easy to use menu using a gun as an icon and bullet noises to accompany its moving. I thought that this touch was rather fun.
It's no MENSA candidate, it's manipulative as hell but Half Past Dead, adopts fake ghetto accent, is aaaight. Presented with some decent extras and given a lovely transfer, this is a good release.