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Half Past Dead

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In one of many offenses, producer Joel Silver resurrected Steven Seagal's fading career by teaming the washed-up action hero with rap superstar DMX for Exit Wounds. The film's healthy box-office returns rescued Seagal from a well-deserved stint in direct-to-video purgatory, so it's not surprising that he enlisted noted DMX impersonator Ja Rule to play his partner in crime in Half Past Dead. Looking pasty and middle-aged, Seagal stars as a master car thief sent to the futuristic super-prison New Alcatraz, where the "criminally challenged" are empowered by ultra-modern features like getting to choose how they're executed. Hill Street Blues veteran Bruce Weitz and Tha Dogg Pound member Kurupt co-star as a condemned man with a valuable secret and a runty cellblock cut-up, respectively, while Morris Chestnut and Nia Peeples round out an ensemble fortified with surprisingly effective stunt casting. On the cusp of his execution, Weitz requests a meeting with Seagal, who died briefly following a murkily lit warehouse shootout, and thus serves as an expert on the afterlife. Before Seagal can grant Weitz the secrets of life and death, master criminals break into the prison, led by blue-eye-shadow-abuser Peeples and Chestnut, a sociopath who traded in a pencil-pushing government job for a gig as a high-stakes criminal. Chestnut and Peeples want Weitz to tell them where he hid a fortune in gold bricks, but their plans hit a snag when their helicopter crashes into the top of the prison, becoming wedged there like a grim attraction at an aviation-themed restaurant. Amazingly, Seagal actually seems to be getting worse with age: He rushes through his half-hearted "dramatic" scenes as if eager to run back to his trailer for a nap, and he sleepwalks through fights where foes fling themselves backward as if propelled from catapults. Thankfully, writer-director Don Michael Paul seems to understand that the key to making a halfway-bearable Steven Seagal movie is to make Seagal as incidental as possible. With its emphasis on visceral kicks over character, coherence, and logic, the engagingly excessive Half Past Dead has some of the anarchic spirit, if not the craft, of superior B-movies with A-movie budgets, like Blade II and Undisputed. Half Past Dead's overwrought plot makes little sense, but not many action movies find room for energetically choreographed Peeples-on-Rule violence, an end-credits showcase for the comic stylings of Kurupt and Mo'Nique, and a pair of gratuitous skydiving sequences. Half Past Dead is so audaciously bad it's good, which is about as close to quality as Seagal is likely to get these days.