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'Half Past Dead' is way past dreadful

November 15, 2002|Manohla Dargis

A threadbare retread of Steven Seagal's "Under Siege," the unfortunately named "Half Past Dead" again finds the actor's stock character, an enigmatic slab with an exotic name (here, car thief Sascha Petrosevitch) called on to single-handedly right a world gone wrong. Except that this time, surrounded by the sort of young black talent that's meant to furnish white guys a patina of cool, and all but obscured by strategically darkened rooms, oblique angles and long shots, Seagal ends up being less of an action hero than simply missing in action.

Shortly after the FBI nabs Sascha and his cohort (rapper Ja Rule), the two are sent to the "new" Alcatraz, where they're promptly swept up in violent intrigue. The day the pair lands on the Rock, a heavily armed gang storms the prison in hopes of extracting lucrative information from a condemned prisoner. Snapping and swirling their black dusters like witchy woman Stevie Nicks, the crew is led by a prison insider (Morris Chestnut, in regulation goatee and shaved head), who divides his time baiting a female judge and leading his crew back and forth over the same three sets, sometimes in slow motion.

Working from his own script, director Don Michael Paul (who also wrote "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man") has made the sort of mindless trash-action picture that ends up going straight to video in this country and clogging foreign screens. Absent one original moment and bathed in de rigueur steel blue punctuated by sporadic bursts of flaming orange, the movie is notable only for its creative approach to Seagal's bulky gracelessness: Not since "Apocalypse Now" has a film gone to such lengths to hide what its star looks like.

-- Manohla Dargis

"Half Past Dead" Rated PG-13 for pervasive action violence, language and some sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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