Yeck vs. Whatever
September 20, 2002
The way I see it, one has to be completely inept to make a shitty action film. No “ands, ifs or buts” about it. The action film is perhaps the most tried and true of all genres, so to truly fuck it up, you¹d have to be inept.
That said, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is easily one of the most ineptly concocted action films to roll out of a studio in quite some time. It actually manages to make toss off drive-in movie fare look like cinematic brilliance, if you can believe that.
The excruciating experience of sitting through the entirety of Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever makes one realize that the director, screenwriter, and producers of this film were beyond inept. They just didn¹t have a clue. Director Wych Kaosayananda (Kaos for short, ‘cuz let’s face it, trying to say Kaosayananda, let alone spell it, is enough to try anybody’s patience) apparently directed a film called Fah. It was the highest budgeted film in the history of his native Thailand and subsequently a big hit. If it’s anything like Ballistic, in terms of style and plot, well, that really doesn’t say much for the integrity of Thai filmgoers, now does it? That said, I wouldn’t expect to see it gracing the shelves of Blockbuster any time soon, especially if it’s half as bad as Ballistic.
Since Ballistic is supposed to be an action film, I’ll start there. To wit, Kaos has drenched his film in never ending swatches of slo-mo. It’s like he’s a kid with his first video camera. Let’s face it, perhaps the last truly brilliant use of slo-mo was by Sam Peckinpah in The Wild Bunch. Anyway, when the action in Ballistic isn’t moving slower than molasses, there’s an endlessly numbing array of explosions and cliché-riddled gunplay. Oh yeah, there’s some half-assed kung fu action tossed in for good measure (like it helps any). That Kaos chose to populate his film with overblown pyrotechnics and lackluster gun fights proves that he fell victim to the worst possible of action film ethics: when in doubt, hit the audience with as much explosives, fiery gun battles, car chases, and vapid eye candy as possible. What he (and the rest of the creative team behind Ballistic) so obviously failed to realize is that no amount of cheesy firepower can cover up a lame story and lame acting. Furthermore, every car chase in this film feels stilted. It’s like it was filmed by some Canadian television crew (no disrespect to Canadian television crews, but we all know what kind of low budget, syndicated genre fair they crank out on a regular basis in Canada). The action in this film feels strictly small screen.
In terms of the plot, I’m gonna be a dick and give it away. Why? Because for one, you’ll be able to figure it out pretty damn quick yourself, if you choose to subject yourself to this cinematic turd. Secondly, despite the ease with which any intelligent being will be able to guess the plot points, it’s still confusing as hell. Here’s the gist: Lucy Liu is a bad-ass renegade DIA (I have no idea what government agency this is and they never explain it) agent named Sever. She kidnaps her boss’ son and holds him for ransom. Enter Ecks (Antonio Banderas), a burnt-out FBI agent. He is coerced into battling Sever, since she knows the whereabouts of his supposedly deceased wife. Are you following all of this? Anyway, a lame game of cat and mouse ensues, with Ecks pitting his wits against Sever’s (hence the “vs.” in the title). Oh yeah, there are some villainous fools in the movie, too. Like the evil DIA head Gant (Gregg Henry) and his right hand man Ross (Ray Park). And there’s some top secret, microscopic weaponry involved, too. Tom and Jerry cartoons have more intricate and engaging plots than this. Trust me.
As for the acting? Can you say stiff? I mean stiffer than an aroused 13-year-old, pimple-faced boy watching the Spice Channel. I realize that Antonio Banderas’ character is supposed to be the cliché burnt-out agent, but damn! Banderas looks like he’s coming off of a 45-day binger. And somebody must have forgotten to tell Liu about “emotion.” Sure, she’s supposed to be a hardboiled killer, but she brings new meaning to the term automaton. Gregg Henry (in the role of the villainous Gant) looks like he’s going through a bad Hairclub for Men day. And Ray Park? The combo of his slurred speech and thick accent makes his line reading all but indecipherable. But perhaps the biggest flaw is that everybody in this film looks bored to tears (much like how I felt sitting through this slag of a movie). Nobody seems to be having any fun with their respective roles. Both Park and Henry should be chewing up the scenery, playing their villainy to the hilt. Instead, they play it pretty straight and only add to the overall mire. If I’d starred in this film, I would have been eating the sets for breakfast.
In the end, watching Ballistic made me yearn for the glory days of low-budget action films. I’m talking about stuff like early Arnie (Raw Deal), Chuck Norris (The Octagon), and Steven Seagal (Above The Law). At least those films reveled in bad acting, mundanely simple plots, and lots of glorious ass-kicking. What’s more, the people involved seemed to know that they weren’t making serious cinema, but rather elevated drive-in escapism, and they had fun with it. They took it seriously, sure, but not too seriously. With Ballistic, it’s painfully obvious that nobody in the film is having a good time. Everybody looks either constipatedly serious or dead bored; they are just going through the motions and collecting a paycheck. And when the actors involved come off as being bored how can they expect us, the audience members, to get excited?
The bottom line is that Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is a tepid, lackluster film that doesn’t even deserve the honor of being labeled an action film. The genre doesn’t need crap like this. Hell, this film wouldn’t even make the USA Up All Night cut. Save your hard-earned cash and go rent some of those “classic” action films from the 80s, you know, the ones made by Cannon Films and Golan/Globus. They pack more bang for your buck, hands down.