Half Past Dead

No, I don’t know why Steven Seagal is considered a star, nor why he keeps being cast in action films when none of them are ever any good or make any money. But like it or not, here he is, and we’ve got to deal with him.

The putty-faced, Baldwin-brother-looking, ponytailed non-actor stars in the new “Half Past Dead,” which despite having the best title in the history of film, is an inexcusably loud, chaotic and stupid movie about terrorists who take a prison hostage in order to 1) make a political statement about the death penalty and 2) find out where a soon-to-be-executed convict hid the $200 million pile of gold he stole.

Seagal plays Sascha Petrosevitch, who happens to be IN the prison at the time, and not as a visitor. (Well, he “plays” him in the sense that Seagal “plays” any role; more precisely, his character is named Sascha, and Seagal mumbles most of Sascha’s lines coherently.)

Sascha states in definite terms that he is Russian, yet he does not have an accent. I would love to have heard Seagal’s attempt at a Russian accent, but I guess then I probably would have just made fun of it.

Anyway, he helps the feds fight the terrorists, who are led by Morris Chestnut (“The Best Man,” “Like Mike”), who is too friendly to be effectively cast as a bad guy. (You may recall that he co-starred with Seagal in “Under Siege 2,” where they were on the same side of the law.)

While all the hostage stuff is going on, there’s a group of dumb convicts screwing around, basically having the run of the place while the warden and guards are held prisoner. Some of these cons are played by people with names like Ja Rule and Kurupt.

Writer/director Don Michael Paul — making his big-screen debut — obeys all the laws established by the Matrix Accord, including having people in black clothes perform wire-facilitated acts of martial artistry while techno music plays in the background. (You will remember that laws were passed after “The Matrix” was released, mandating that all action films use these elements.)

Seagal has slowed down a bit in his old age and is not nearly the exciting, taciturn hero he allegedly once was. Even if he had superhuman strength and agility, though, this film would still be a hopeless, derivative wreck, unoriginal down to its last character and plot detail.

D (1 hr., 39 min.; PG-13, abundant action violence and shooting, mild sexual innuendo, some profanity.)