In the late '80's to the mid-90's, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Segal were in demand, as - whatever one thought about their acting abilities - the duo's brute force flicks brought action fans out to the box offices. However, as the year 2000 approached, action films got sleeker and the action faster, leaving both former stars out in the cold. "Half Past Dead" would be the last film of Segal's to go to theatres, while Van Damme wouldn't have more than a couple of others go theatre-bound after 1996's "Maximum Risk".
"Half" is a lumbering action flick that delivers the required dose of explosions and fight scenes, but there's little memorable about it. Segal stars as Sascha Petrosevitch, an FBI agent who goes undercover to bust some sort of criminal operation. In the midst of his undercover work, he befriends Nick Frazier (Ja Rule), and ends up saving him - but getting severely injured - when a fight errupts.
Sure enough, after healing, he and Frazier get thrown into the high-security New Alcatraz prison, whose security level becomes rather questionable when a group of mercenaries lead by 49er One (Morris Chestnut) breaks in, looking to find out information from Lester (Bruce Weitz), a convict who knows where a giant stash of stolen gold is hidden. So begins a battle between Petrosevitch and 49erOne, with the latter holding a Supreme Court Justice hostage. The film's action sequences don't offer particularly interesting choreography, but remain mindless cheese, much like the rest of the film. The business of action films have moved on to such a degree that films like this, despite being only a little over 10 years old, already seem more dated than their age would indicate.
"Maximum Risk", while not exactly an action classic either, fares a little better thanks to Hong Kong director Ringo Lam, whose stylish direction and skill at handling action sequences results in a better film than the material would indicate. This time around, Van Damme stars in a dual role as both Mikhail Suverov and Alain Moreau, two twin brothers separated at birth. Suverov is taken out of the picture early on when he's chased by the Russian mob.
Moreau heads to New York City to try and track down information and - wouldn't you know it - finds himself in the midst of a web of mobsters and crooked agents. His only ally is Alex Minetti (Natasha Henstridge), the beautiful girlfriend of his brother. The plot is ridiculous, the dialogue clunky, the character development non-existent; however, despite a terrible script by Larry Ferguson, the film at least moves along at a decent clip and what would otherwise be fairly standard action scenes in other movies are at least presented in a slick package here. Van-Damme and Henstridge share okay chemistry and the two offer acceptable performances (at least considering the material.) "Maximum Risk" has aged a little better as these sort of '90's action movies go - it's not a classic by any means, but it's a decent choice for a mindless Sunday afternoon.
Both films are available separately on Blu-Ray.
VIDEO: "Half Past Dead" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC). The Blu-Ray edition appears to have gotten a boost over the DVD only in regards to sharpness and detail, as the picture does appear mildly crisper and more detailed. Otherwise, there's problems easily seen at times throughout the movie, including some noticable edge enhancement, noise and the occasional print flaws. Colors are subdued by intent, and appear accurately presented. "Maximum Risk" is presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and, while it's not without some flaws, as well - including some specks on the print and a few scattered instances of mild edge enhancement - it does look crisper and cleaner than "Half". While certainly not crystal clear, "Maximum Risk" at least looked crisp and detailed throughout most of the running time, with natural colors that looked spot-on.
SOUND: Both films are presented with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtracks. Although neither sound design is a prime example of action film audio, they do bring the noise during the action sequences, with the rear speakers providing various sound effects (gunfire, cars screeching through the scene, etc) and ambience. Neither soundtrack goes for precision or detail, but both do ramp up in satisfactory fashion during the more intense sequences. Long story short, for action movie soundtracks that are over a decade old, these probably won't get any complaints.
EXTRAS: "Half" has commentary from director Don Michael Paul, as well as deleted scenes, the trailer and "making of". "Maximum Risk" only comes with a trailer and previews for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: "Maximum Risk" edges ahead of "Half", both in terms of the film and the Blu-Ray presentation. Fans of '90's action pictures may want to revisit these as a rental.