During an undercover assignment that dissolves into an O.K. Corral-style shootout, FBI agent Sascha Petrosevitch eats enough lead to be clinically dead for 22 minutes. Medics revive Sascha and he resumes his deep cover, now as an inmate on newly opened Alcatraz island. He hopes to finish the job he started by being incarcerated alongside baddie “buddy” Nick (played by popular rapper Ja Rule) and gaining crucial dirt on a crime boss. But this very personal case (the mobster killed Sascha’s wife) takes a back seat to an emerging situation at the prison.A greedy, disgruntled bureaucrat and his heavily armed team of commandos storms Alcatraz in an attempt to force a death-row inmate to tell where he hid $200 million in gold bars. Sascha finds himself smack dab in the middle of the conflict since Lester—the dead man walking—has made a last request that he get to discuss Sascha’s near-death experience with him. So while Lester and Sascha chew the fat about the existence of God and moving toward a bright light, the bad guys bust in. Their plans hit a snag when their getaway chopper takes a header into a cell block. So the diabolical Donny (doesn’t that name just strike fear in your heart?) and his team take hostage a visiting Supreme Court Justice in order to procure another ride. Meanwhile, the prisoners get out and are—since most of the guards have been killed—the only ones left to help Sascha save the day.To spend too much time on plot points is to miss the point of Half Past Dead. This is an action movie all about explosions, random gunfire (more rounds get spent here than during the Gulf War), ridiculous stunts, bone-crunching hand-to-hand combat, an annoying rap/metal soundtrack, a high body count and unflattering portrayals of women. How it managed a PG-13 I’ll never know.
positive elements: Sascha still wears his wedding ring, clinging to the memory of his late wife. He says of her, “She was the best part of me.” To their credit, the inmates fight on behalf of the justice system that put them behind bars because it’s the right thing to do. Without regard for his own safety, Sascha executes a death-defying stunt or two in order to rescue Justice McPherson. Friends look out for one another. In the end, despite being the only one aware of the location of the missing gold, Sascha elects to bring in the authorities instead of taking it for himself. Sascha also quips, “Hitchhiking is dangerous; didn’t your mom ever tell you that?”
spiritual content: Apart from the level of violence allowed to slip in under a PG-13 rating, the only surprise in this film was the amount of time spent talking about God and the afterlife. The “good guys” conclude that God exists, is worth trusting with our destiny, and is willing to forgive mistakes (though Christ, the mechanism of that loving, sacrificial forgiveness, is never mentioned). Ruthless Donny taunts Lester by asking, “Got yourself born again in prison?” “I found God, yes,” the death-row inmate replies. To which Donny claims, “There is no God. [He then shoots a priest dead and waves the man’s cross in Lester’s face.] You had to find God to get over your guilt. But God is dead.” Elsewhere, Lester quotes Genesis 9:6 to Justice McPherson, which she remembers as the verse she invoked when sentencing him. The warden tells his new class of inmates that one of the two texts they should read and take to heart is the King James Bible.
sexual content: A psycho woman known only as 49er Six is dressed as a butch, Goth dominatrix in black leather with a bare midriff. She derives hoots and hollars from male inmates. Prisoners make wisecracks about sodomy. While the end credits roll, a prisoner played by gangsta rapper Kurupt reminisces with his girlfriend about their sexual history—with sound effects.
violent content: Viewers get assaulted by countless shootings and a death toll higher than most James Bond films. Like an out-of-control sprinkler system, automatic weapons spray gunfire indiscriminately in numerous scenes. Other victims get shot at close range with handguns. A few murders are fairly bloody. Guards get picked off and plummet from a tall wall. Martial arts punches, kicks and flips lead combatants to slam against walls, crash through panes of glass and tumble from heights. Several such battles pit men against the “feminine” 49er Six (disturbing in their subtle sexualization of violence). Just as she’s about to knife the warden, 49er Six gets dropped like a bad habit by the gun-toting FBI chief (also a woman). Donny threatens to electrocute Justice McPherson, then throws her out of a helicopter in midflight. Choppers, cars and other props get blown up. One explosion engulfs a man in flame. To revive a downed guard, Sascha uses the man’s Alcatraz-issue cattle prod as a defibrillator. An abrupt stop hurls Nick out of one car and smashing into the windshield of another. Guards are physically abusive to inmates.
crude or profane language: Nick shows disrespect toward police, calling them “pigs.” Beyond that there are approximately two dozen profanities.
drug and alcohol content: Nick and Twitch are frequently shown smoking cigarettes.
other negative elements: Sascha’s reckless driving is played for laughs. The film’s portrayals of women empower them and diminish them at the same time by treating them like men (the gruff FBI agent, the assassin, the hard-boiled politician, etc.).
conclusion: I’m tempted to write to the Motion Picture Association of America and ask its anonymous ratings board precisely what a violent action film has to do to get an R rating anymore. It’s absurd. The only difference between the controversial trench coat massacre in The Matrix and the carnage spread throughout Half Past Dead is that this film doesn’t show the bullets actually making contact with the victims’ bodies. Everything else is the same. Lethal acrobatic gunplay fills the screen while deafening rap/metal music courses through the speakers. Constantly. The violence isn’t the only thing that’s brutal. The acting is an embarrassment, especially by Chestnut who looks like he won the lead in The Terrell Davis Story and wandered onto the wrong set. He’s unconvincing as a villain. Of course, the stilted, cliché-ridden dialogue he’s asked to recite doesn’t help. Writer/director Don Michael Paul assaults the senses, offering audiences nothing of value aside from a handful of interesting exchanges pondering God and the afterlife.