There is only really one valid type of prison movie, and that's the sensationally Sapphic sleazefests known as the Women Behind Bars epics. Nothing screams "exploitation" faster and friskier than semi-clothed honeys doing hard time (and other, less mentionable things) while battling off the advances of corrupt guards and wicked wardens. Toss in the mandatory shower sequence and some late night "experimentation" and you've got the perfect cure for the dateless Saturday night blues. Why the Hotties in the Hoosegow genre trumps all other kinds of penitentiary pics becomes crystal clear after watching the crude, crappy and totally uncalled for series sequel Half Past Dead 2. Fueled by a cherub's amount of machismo and about as exciting as a wart, this lame action excuse for a Jocks in Jail dynamic will definitely leave you bored, bewildered - and most importantly - babeless.
Still serving time in New Alcatraz, prison stoolie Twitch is desperate to get at the $160 million in gold bullion that previous cellmate Lester McKenna bragged about pinching. Problem is, the precious metal is located in Missouri, and his unfortunate be-hind is up the river in California. After Warden El Fuego warns the populace that anyone who starts a fight will be sent off to that penitentiary version of a cesspool known as Creighton - which just so happens to be located in the Show Me State - our jail yard rat starts rumbling up a storm. He lands in the Midwestern detention center just as a major gang war is about to break out. Cortez and his Latino homies are preparing for an escape, while Angel and his black power allies are out to protect their status as inside muscle. Caught in the middle is Burke, a bewildered family man who was wrongly accused of theft by a buddy, and sent away for six long years. His wife has abandoned him and his daughter is about to do the same when an assassination gone sour turns into a full scale riot. Soon, Burke is accused of killing the head of the black brotherhood, and there's a $10k bounty on his butt. Even worse, his kid has just been kidnapped by Cortez, and our hulking hero must save her before she and everyone else wind up Half Past Dead 2.
In theory, there is nothing wrong with a tight, testosterone fueled action flick. Just look at 300, any installment in the Rambo franchise, or the collective works of Michael Bay. But when you attempt such a balls and brawls spectacle, you better be able to deliver and deliver huge. But if you can't practice what you preach, or better still, can't competently create an entertainment entity into which to fit your fisticuff formulas, you'd better step back and consider an entirely different genre all together. Such is the problem with Half Past Dead 2, a sequel in name only to the 2002 Steven Seagal stinker. This perturbing prison idiocy is about as exhilarating as a parole violation and twice as detrimental. While the Big House is not usually known for creating the perfect motion picture environment (The Shawshank Redemption and Ernest Goes to Jail excluded), the premise here has some potential. Call it Die Hard with Consecutive Sentences, or Oz without all the emotive man love, but a solitary stand off between desperate and defiant convicts seems like perfect foot to face fight fodder. Throw in a couple homemade shivs and a sequence where someone accidentally drops the soap, and you've got your basic bravura behind bars.
But Half Past Dead 2 is almost completely comatose when it comes to style and substance. Director Art Camacho, known as a b-movie fight choreographer, is also responsible for such sour schlock titles as Sci-Fighter, Point Doom, and the cheese ball classic, Little Bigfoot. His is an auteurship built out of sloppy stock characters, basic plot contrivances, and poorly produced stunt work. He may be able to design a ballistic battle royale, but he sure as Hell can't capture it on film. The scenes where our inmates go toe-to-toe-to-testicles, working out old vendettas and fresh paybacks with pipes and sheer strength, are staged so awkwardly we never really know whose brusin' who. Even big Bill Goldberg, stepping away from the square circle to give thespianism a try, has a hard time looking convincing while throwing a punch. If anyone should be used to such fake fracases, it's a former member of the WCW. Then, when you add in the babbling nonsense of supposed rap star Kurupt (he's like a less frantic and unfunny version of Chris Tucker), the general ineffectiveness of the villains (we want hissable, not horrible) and a finale that's flabby and uninspired, you've got a real piece of direct to DVD dung.
Granted, it's hard to expect much from an off title effort featuring a no name cast, a former wrestler as your lead, and a filmmaker whose resume resembles the $1.99 section of the Wal-Mart video cut out bin. But as The Marine and The Condemned have proven, subpar doesn't have to mean humorless. There is a certain kitschy joy to be had watching buffed up acting amateurs navigate their way through the Big Book of Action Movie Clichés, especially when the performers are eyeing a new way to market their otherwise limited appeal. Bill Goldberg, like John Sena and Steve Austin, may be a fine physical specimen but there is more to the histrionics of heroism than massive biceps and a severe lack of neck. You need a badass personality to match the muscle, and no, growling like you've just rinsed your mouth out with corrosive cleaner is not an example of machismo. You need swagger, self-confidence, and an air of invincibility, even when 15 guys are punching out your kidneys. But in Half Past Dead 2, Goldberg is still working through the definition of sense memory. He's so unsure of himself that the entire film collapses around him like a death row appeal. While Camacho's direction only adds to the mess, this is one action adventure with a champion at its core.
Looking pretty good for a $1.98 production, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image for Half Past Dead 2 is vibrant, crisp, and on occasion, very atmospheric. Of course, the minute the rioting occurs and the "temporary power generators" are employed, the transfer goes from terrific to troublesome. The underlit elements are muddy and indistinct, and Camacho has no idea how to manage shadows. Still, the vast majority of the print is more than presentable.
Dolby Digital 5.1 has never felt as flat and lifeless as it does here. The back channels are barely used, and the occasional rock/rap musical underscoring comes out like one long continuous drone. The dialogue is understandable and the frequent fights pop with a decent amount of skin-on-skin sonic boom. But the rest of the mix is mediocre at best.
Like trailers? Good, because that's all you're going to get here. As a matter of fact, if you simply sit back and wait for this DVD to load up, you can see all the previews prior to the appearance of the main feature. Or you could just skip them and head directly to the dullness. It's totally up to you.
Coming from a critic who actually enjoyed The Marine, and gave some serious thought to seeing the latest WWE extravaganza in THEATERS when it opened, Half Past Dead 2 is a perfect example of unnecessary sequel as 'in name only' snoozefest. There may be enough fans of flaccid action films out there to warrant an incredibly weak rating of Recommended, but a far more realistic ranking of Rent It is clearly the way to go. That way, if you decide to pack it in before the final credits start to roll, you won't feel like you've been totally ripped off. When it comes to low budget, no name rock 'em sock 'em cinema, no one is asking for originality, invention, artistry or social significance. But it would be nice if the so-called thriller actually provided a few of its genre namesake. Sadly, Half Past Dead 2 is so inert that gases like Helium and Neon are jealous. Bill Goldberg may have a career in front of the camera, but as for now, he's more bulk than believability. And this movie? It's more bunk than anything else.