It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Half Past Dead" is like an alarm that goes off while nobody is in the room. It does its job and stops, and nobody cares. It goes through the motions of an action thriller, but there is a deadness at its center, a feeling that no one connected with it loved what they were doing. There are moments, to be sure, when Ja Rule and Morris Chestnut seem to hear the music, but they're dancing by themselves.
The plot is preposterous, but that's acceptable with a thriller. The action is preposterous, too: Various characters leap from high places while firing guns, and the movie doesn't think to show us how, or if, they landed. A room is filled with teargas, but what exactly happens then? The movie takes the form of a buddy movie, but is stopped in its tracks because its hero, played by Steven Seagal, doesn't have a buddy gene in his body. (I know, he takes seven bullets for his partner Nick, but I don't think he planned it: "I'll take seven bullets for Nick!") Seagal's great contribution to the movie is to look very serious, even menacing, in closeups carefully framed to hide his double chin. I do not object to the fact that he's put on weight. Look who's talking. I object to the fact that he thinks he can conceal it from us with knee-length coats and tricky camera angles. I would rather see a movie about a pudgy karate fighter than a movie about a guy you never get a good look at.
The film has little dialogue and much action. It places its trust so firmly in action that it opens with a scene where the characters have one of those urban chase scenes where the car barely misses trailer trucks, squeals through 180-degree turns, etc., and they're not even being chased. It's kind of a warm-up, like a musician practicing the scales.
Do not read further if you think the plot may have the slightest importance to the movie. Seagal plays an undercover FBI guy who has teamed up with the crook Nick Frazier (Ja Rule), who vouched for him with the master criminal Sonny Ekvall (Richard Bremmer), who runs, if I have this correct, "the biggest crime syndicate between Eastern Europe and the Pacific Rim." He doesn't say whether the syndicate extends easterly or westerly between those demarcations, which would affect the rim he has in mind. Maybe easterly, since Seagal's character is named Sascha Petrosevitch. "You're Russian, right?" he asks Seagal, who agrees. Seagal's answer to this question is the only time in the entire movie he has a Russian accent.