With the Expendables rumour mill working at full capacity there’s one name that’s not been mentioned for a while: Steven Seagal. So when I saw a Seagal film called Half Past Dead for 75p with the tagline “The good, the bad and the deadly” I couldn’t not buy it could I? Strictly for research purposes.
Set in a newly re-opened Alcatraz prison, Half Past Dead is a self-contained action flick which sees a group of militant criminals invade the island fortress to rescue a death row prisoner who’s sitting on a $200m fortune. It’s a kind of prison escape film in reverse so all the people shooting each other up are conveniently already incarcerated.
I’m not sure why it has such an absurd title, but it may be a reference to Steven Seagal, who has all the charisma of roadkill. He’s a terrbile actor, and not in the funny and distinctive Arnold Schwarzenegger way or the elephant-in-the-room Ewan McGregor way. He’s just boring and wooden. He’s like a fatter Piers Morgan with even less talent. Admittedly there’s not a lot to do with the horribly written dialogue, and he doesn’t exactly stand out for his bad acting amongst the rest of the cast, but it might have been improved with a Stallone or even a Van Damme.
This being said, as a cheap, disposable action film it’s really not that bad. The basic set up feels like it has a handful of original ideas in there, even if it’s very much in the post-Matrix cool martial arts in black clothes phase of cinema. The fact that it all takes place in one (admittedly big) location gives it a tidy feel and forces innovation on the part of the writers. The action’s well done too, which is really the most important thing, with some great shoot outs, and impressive martial arts sequence.
It’s not often you notice the editing on a film, but this is plagued by weird sections of slow/fast motion which make it feel like an episode of Green Wing. It also falters wherever it tries to inject emotional sincerity, especially in a scene where the uninteresting main bad guy does a Lecter-esque examination of a hostage’s psyche which completely fails to convince.
It might be reading too much in to say that this is an anti death penalty film, but several interesting sections suggest this. The prisoner who is set to be killed has been on death row for eighteen years but is being sent to the chair in spite of showing signs of having reformed. He is also given a long scene where he gets the chance to describe the feeling of having a date set for your death, and realising your life no longer belongs to you, which shows surprising sensitivity for an action B movie. There’s even a bit where a visiting Supreme Court judge is sat in the electric chair in a kind of “let’s see how you like it” moment which is thought-provoking (if you’re a boring sod who over thinks tacky action films like me).
It’ll be interesting to see how it compares to Stallone/Schwarzenegger prison break film Escape Plan later this year.