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‘Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever’ Is…… A Movie…

Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever images courtesy of Warner Bros.

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is…… a movie.

So, that’s a good start, I suppose.

It’s a popcorn movie for sure. It’s got guns and martial arts and explosions. Like, LOTS of explosions. But as fun as it is hearing loud bangs accompanied by large bursts of flame and plumes of smoke you also need things like nuance and strong dialogue. These items are, to put it kindly, less prominent in this 2002 bomb.

But that shouldn’t make one lose hope, right? So, let’s take a dive into this early millennial shoot ‘em up and see what we got.

The first stumbling block appears before you even watch the movie.

Seriously, what is up with that name? I can remember the ads for this on TV back before its theatrical release and thinking what the hell is X vs. Sever? Then when I paid enough attention to see on the screen that “X” was “Ecks” I was even more confused. The name reminds me of a recent successful film, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. The difference is that the latter was a hit despite its clunky name because it featured two characters who were already established in an incredibly successful franchise.

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is a confusing title.

Who? Am I supposed to know these people? Was there a previous movie that started building this universe? If so, it must have been a real stinker because I never heard of it. The filmmakers really would have done themselves a favor if they had just named this something else.

The film centers around the mysterious Sever (Lucy Liu). She announces herself on-screen with an explosion (I told you there would be lots of explosions) as she interrupts the attempted kidnapping of Michael, who is the son of the powerful, and pretty dick-ish Robert Gant, played by veteran character actor, Gregg Henry.

Why do so many people want Michael and how does it relate to Sever will be what propels the rest of the story ahead.

This kidnapping also acts as the catalyst for ex-FBI agent Jeremiah Ecks (Antonio Banderas) to be called back into duty.

Man, that Banderas was one handsome bastard back in his day. But Ecks is too busy drowning his sorrows over the death of his wife in a bar. And when fellow agents are sent to retrieve him, he tells them to get lost. When they try to take him by force, he shows them that they’ve messed with the wrong guy. Enter his former boss, Julio Martin (Miguel Sandoval) who casually strolls onto screen past a bartender who doesn’t look the least bit bothered that his only customer just beat up two armed federal agents in his workplace.

Like the bartender, most of the characters in this movie seem adrift. Their motivations are either non-existent, unexplained or convenient as all hell. People appear in the right place at the right time with no reason other than that is where someone needs to be. The interconnection of the characters is simple. In other words, anything that might require character development is thrown out the window and replaced with simple answers because, you know, we want to get to shit blowing up.

The movie also feels out of place as an early millennium film with its tired, tough guy dialogue. That probably has everything to do with the fact that it was adapted from a script that had been floating around since 1986. In 2002, audiences were yearning for the slick, American/Hong Kong hybrid action of The Matrix, which was released three years earlier and influenced how Hollywood action movies even into present day. That knockoff effect is present in Ballistic. But The Matrix was grounded in deep philosophical ruminations about the nature of reality with a character in Neo who was searching for a deeper meaning to his own existence. Ballistic doesn’t care about all that junk, instead trying to use the sheen of what was popular in that moment while still using dried up dialogue tropes from a different era.

Speaking of The Matrix, one of my favorite scenes from the Keanu Reeves classic is when his character, Neo, teams up with Trinity to rescue Morpheus from the Agent Smith. It looks like someone involved with this film loved that scene too and decided to recycle elements of it into an antiquated script. Whether it be stone walls fragmenting under heavy gun fire, Lucy Liu doing a cartwheel while holding an assault rifle or later raining down fire on her enemies from behind a Gatling gun, it’s not hard to see ideas that were straight up pilfered. She and Banderas even have a scene towards the end of the movie where they banter as they stock up from a personal arsenal that has any weapon they could want.

In The Matrix we saw that if you die in the simulation, you will die in the real world too. Quite the opposite in Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, where it appears that the heroes can’t be killed in the real world at all. Liu and Banderas don’t need to stop bullets in mid-air because their enemies can’t fire straight. No matter what range and how many people are firing at them, Banderas’ character is easily able to avoid being hit and take on multiple agents armed with assault rifles using only a single barrel shotgun.

Throughout the movie he is hit head on by a car, thrown from a motorcycle with no helmet on and thrown around in a bus that crashes onto its side. (He also ends up riding on top of the bus as it slides down the street but how he got up there doesn’t seem to be an important detail that requires no explanation.) The damage sustained for these three vehicular accidents that would each put a normal person in traction, if not the grave? One single cut on his cheek. He doesn’t even walk like a man in any kind of pain.

If you’re going to set an action movie in the real world, then remember to create real consequences for your characters or else it just becomes farcical. Having John McClane look like he’s been through the ringer at the end of the Die Hard films is part of what humanized him and made him so relatable to the audience. That is a lesson that director Wych Kaosayananda, billed here as Kaos (eye roll), should have taken to heart.

But attention to detail is not a strong suit here. A soldier plunges from the roof of a building onto a car parked below and somehow the force of his impact blows a wheel clear off the vehicle. Physics was never my strong suit but that seems like a bit of a stretch. Another area of science that I must not comprehend is genetics.

When Ecks is reunited with his wife, who is now married to the villain (convenient, right?), she reveals the truth that he is the father of her son, not Gant. That’s all fine and well but Banderas is a Spaniard and Talisa Soto, who plays his ex, is Puerto Rican. So, can somebody explain to me how they cast a white bread actor who looks like the second coming of Jerry Mathers as their movie child? You know what? It doesn’t matter. My suspension of disbelief has long since been crushed by this point in the movie anyway.

One hope I had for the redemption of this film was the promise of Ray Park, who appears as the bad guy Ross, getting to show off his incredible martial arts skills.

Gregg Henry and Ray Park in a park…

It comes late in the story as he mostly broods throughout his scenes and calls in instructions on a walkie talkie. When Ross finally does face off with fellow human weapon, Sever, its fine but not what one would hope for. The hand-to-hand combat scenes throughout the film are a bit too slow paced and uninspiring. Though both Park and Liu have been involved in brilliant on-screen fights before, this one doesn’t live up to their respective work as Darth Maul and O-Ren Ishii.

Go watch Star Wars: The Phantom Menace or Kill Bill: Volume 1 to see what they are truly capable of.

If there’s something I can point out as a positive for this clunker, it’s that this movie is a delight for anyone who likes to see things blow up.

Ballistic: was produced on a $70 million budget and it is not foolish to think that most of that money went towards stunts and pyrotechnics. Of course, the film only made back 20 million so it didn’t get enough bang for its buck. Or buck for its bang, I guess. There are so many vehicles being blown to kingdom come here that it does start to lose its effect, though. Vehicles flipping over in balls of flames after being hit with one or two bullets in not uncommon.

A sequence of train explosions in the end is admittedly impressive even if a little over the top. But all the explosions are not worth the hour and a half of my life that I lost to Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.

But if big, loud booms are your thing, this might be worth it for you to check out.





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