In San Francisco, Sasha Petrosevitch (Steven Seagal) is a Russian car thief who's brought in by criminal Nick Frazier (Ja Rule) to work for crime boss Sonny Eckvall (Richard Bremmer), who apparently shot and killed Sasha's wife. After some time, FBI Special Agent Ellen "E. Z." Williams (Claudia Christian) and her team show up to nail Nick, but things go bad, and Sasha gets shot.
After eight months of recovery following his brief bout of being clinically dead from the shooting, Sasha is incarcerated along with Nick in the newly reopened Alcatraz prison. Run by the charismatic warden, Juan Ruiz "El Fuego" Escarzaga (Tony Plana), the place is known for its new state of the art death chamber where the condemned can choose from five different ways to die: lethal injection, gas chamber, hanging, firing squad, or electric chair.
Lester McKenna (Bruce Weitz), is the first death row prisoner brought to the new Alcatraz and also the first prisoner scheduled to be executed. An older man, he stole $200,000,000 worth of gold bricks in a heist that resulted in five deaths, and hid the loot at an unknown location. Federal Bureau of Prisons head Frank Hubbard (Stephen J. Cannell) and Supreme Court Justice Jane McPherson (Linda Thorson) have arrived to witness the execution, which is a result of June sentencing Lester.
But she's not the only one interested in Lester. A small but well equipped team of terrorists who call themselves the "49ers" have parachuted onto the Alcatraz island, and gained control of it. Led by 49er One, a.k.a. Hubbard's assistant Donny Johnson (Morris Chestnut), and 49er Six (Nia Peeples), the team finds Lester, and they want him to give up the location of his hidden stash of gold. When Lester will not tell them, Donny shoots a nearby priest (Eva-Maria Schönecker), and threatens to kill others if the information is not delivered.
Donny's plan is disrupted, however, when Sascha decides to step in and fight back. It turns out that Sasha is actually an undercover FBI agent who has been trying to use Nick to get to Sonny Eckvall. When Sasha rescues Lester, the 49ers strap Jane to the electric chair and threaten to kill her, all while Ellen and her team prepare a rescue plan from the mainland.
With the help of Nick and some of the other inmates such as Twitch (Kurupt) and Little Joe (Michael "Bear" Taliferro), Sasha sets out to rescue Jane and bring Donny down, before Alcatraz becomes everyone's final resting place.
Half Past Dead was released on November 15, 2002, in the United States, where it grossed $7.8 million on its opening weekend. It grossed $15.5 million in the US and another $3.7 million outside the US, for a total worldwide gross of $19.2 million. It was released on DVD in the US on March 4, 2003.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 3% of 87 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 3/10. The site's consensus reads: "Seagal is now too bulky to make a convincing action hero, and Half Past Dead is too silly and incoherent to deliver any visceral kicks." Metacritic rated it 23/100 based on 23 reviews. Critic Roger Ebert wrote, "Half Past Dead is like an alarm that goes off with nobody in the room. It does its job, stops, and nobody cares."
Seagal was nominated for Worst Actor at the 2003 Golden Raspberry Awards.
Half Past Dead 2 was released direct-to-video on May 15, 2007. The film does not feature actors Steven Seagal or Ja Rule. The starring characters were Twitch (Kurupt) and Burke (Bill Goldberg).