“Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever” is actually the wrong title for Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu’s action-adventure; the correct title should have been “Ecks and Sever”, since after the film’s initial 30 minutes, the rest of the film has Ecks and Sever teaming up to battle an Evil Government Agency Bent on World Conquest — or something similarly sinister.
Antonio Banderas, whose English seems to be getting worst with each movie, stars as Jeremiah Ecks, an ex-FBI agent who, when we first meet him, is covered in the Retired Cop clich’ — drinking his sorrows away in a smoky bar and looking disheveled. Still suffering from the lost of his wife years ago, Ecks is drawn out of retirement to help locate Sever, a deadly agent played by Lucy Liu, an actress who is quickly digging herself a deep hole by playing so many Dragon Ladies in a row.
Oh, and there’s a whole subplot about how Sever used to work for an Evil Government Agency Bent on Evil Intentions, and whose boss (Gregg Henry) is plotting to do Evil Things with a super duper device referred to as “the perfect killing machine.” With the Evil Agency in hot pursuit, Sever is forced (really?) to kill about half of the cops in an unnamed city’s police force, only to come back in the film’s final 20-minute action set piece and finish off the remaining half. And along the way, Ecks mopes a lot and mumbles incoherently under his breath.
The director of “Ballistic”, a 28-year old Thai fellow name Wych Kaosayananda (he goes by “Kaos”) has only made one film in his entire life, and that was in his native Thailand. Apparently that film is so good (I guess) that some brainiac Hollywood suit has given Kaos a few dozen million American dollars to blow up a city and a train yard, and about 100 or so cars for good measure. As a narrative feature, “Ballistic” is so grossly incompetent in every way that matters that it’s hard to imagine how the film could possibly get any worst. But true to form, Kaos proves me wrong, and the film does manage to get worst. Much worst.
The movie’s trailer sells the film perfectly. It’s a series of unbelievably dumb stunts, all synced up to throbbing techno music that seems go to on endlessly without rhyme or reason. The screenplay by Alan McElroy (“Left Behind”) lacks any sense of coherence, no matter how slim. For instance, Sever is supposed to be an elusive superspy, but that doesn’t stop the Evil Director of the Evil Government Agency from promptly locating her and setting up an ambush at a mall. While Lucy Liu’s Sever is supposed to be our “misunderstood” heroine, that doesn’t stop her from killing and causing enough property damage and mass panic in a rather indiscriminate pattern.
There is a backstory for Ecks, but what’s the point in bringing it up? Antonio Banderas has been in one bad movie after another, with the exception being Brian De Palma’s “Femme Fatale”, released the same year as “Ballistic.” Lucy Liu is a talented actress, but she needs to say No to some of these types of roles. Liu is a good actress, and in movies like “Charlie’s Angels”, that relies on heavy douses of the most unrealistic “action moves” ever put to film, she can sell herself as an action star. But in “Ballistic” Liu just looks awkward; her woman-in-black looks good — that is, until she starts doing action. I know it’s hard to say No to a role that promises you the lead, but Liu needs to think beyond the sudden inflation in her bank account.
“Ballistic” is 90 minutes of mindless mayhem. The action scenes are so badly choreographed that you wonder if anyone was put in charge of making sure director Kaos understood the “flow” of action. There is such a disjointed feel to the action sequences that it’s hard to keep things in perspective. The camera is so obsessed with catching every explosion from every conceivable angle that no one has bothered to ask why so many explosions are going off in the first place.
Remember that scene in “Star Wars” when Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker stumbles onto a vessel shot to pieces in the desert, and Kenobi states (referring to the weapons markings left behind), “Only Stormtroopers are this accurate.” And then, for the rest of the “Star Wars” franchise, you watch with amusement as Stormtroopers couldn’t hit the side of a barn? I call this the Stormtrooper Syndrome. In “Ballistic,” everyone has Stormtrooper Syndrome except for Ecks and Sever, which explains why Sever never bothers to leap for cover when she’s battling dozens of faceless gunmen at once. I mean, if they’re not going to hit her anyway (that is, if they even bother taking the time to shoot at her in the first place!) what’s the point?
Wych Kaosayananda (director) / Alan B. McElroy (screenplay)
CAST: Antonio Banderas …. Jeremiah Ecks
Lucy Liu …. Sever
Gregg Henry …. Robert Gant/Agent Clark
Ray Park …. Ross
Talisa Soto …. Vinn / Rayne