Half Past Dead (15)
Sometime, somewhere over the last six or seven years, Steven Seagal lost what passed for a movie career.
There was a brief period, towards the middle of the 1990s, when Seagal could realistically have stepped in and claimed the action crown that Stallone and Schwarzenegger were about to abdicate.
He certainly had the martial arts skills; it didn’t really matter that he couldn’t act. Yet Seagal blew it, and his career, like that of Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme before him, nose-dived until he was making straight-to-video fare like The Patriot (not the Mel Gibson blockbuster) and, now, dross like Half Past Dead.
In this one he’s an undercover FBI agent posing as a convict on a newly re-opened (and hi-tech) Alcatraz where he squares up to a homicidal thief who invades the prison. His plan? Intercept a notorious prisoner en-route to execution and quiz him on where he stashed $200 million in gold bullion.
Of course, it’s nonsense – even down to the fact that Seagal, 52 and suspiciously hidden from the camera’s knowing gaze, plays second fiddle in his own film – but it’s flashy, semi high-quality nonsense in which the lion’s share of the action and screen time is given to rap star Ja Rule.
As for Seagal, he meanders in and out of the plot, whispering in his trademark fashion and never doing anything that would cause him to break out in a sweat. And while Rule, Morris Chestnut (as the villain) and surprise female cast member Linda Thorson (remember her from the later Avengers episodes?) do the hard work, Seagal saunters through the background.
Traditionally Seagal’s B-movies have two or three-word titles – Hard to Kill, Exit Wounds, Out for Justice, Under Siege – and Half Past Dead follows the same line. Similarly, his characters go by ridiculous names, among them Storm, Glass and Cold. In this one he’s the relatively normal Sasha.
The odd point to bear in mind about Seagal is that, on the back of Under Siege and then Executive Action, in which he guest starred as a hard-as-nails special forces soldier before being killed off early, he could have enjoyed a career as a character actor.
Instead he seems to have lumbered himself with forgettable rubbish like this, which, despite its MTV style and rap soundtrack, is destined for a rapid journey to the video shelf.
Fans of the old Seagal will wonder what happened to the man who, briefly, was the great hope of action cinema. Newcomers to his movies will view him only as a chubby, middle-aged bloke with bad hair (he continues to wear a ponytail) who can’t hold a candle to the likes of Jet Li.
Star rating: **