Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever
2002, R, 91 min. Directed by Kaos. Starring Antonio Banderas, Lucy Liu, Gregg Henry, Talisa Soto, Ray Park, Miguel Sandoval, Terry Chen, Aidan Drummond.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 27, 2002
Thai director Wych Kaosayanada knows a disaster when he sees (or directs) one; paring down his given name to the graffito tag zone and his plot to the bare minimum, Kaos directs Ballistic's artful explosions, whanging small-arms fire, and injectable nanotechnology riffs with the gusto of an MTV video contest reject, You Wrote It -- You Watch It for the mayhem set. If only. Drowning in dicey editing, black leather, and Lucy Liu as a Defense intelligence agent at her most numbingly icy (she was infinitely better in the ludicrous-but-exhilaratingly goofy Charlie's Angels, which was also helmed, strangely enough, by another single-moniker director: McG), Kaos pulls out all the stops when it comes to crafting sequences featuring the pursuit of soft human tissue by hard little lead slugs. But beyond the occasionally creative love of the excessive -- such as the uncomfortably realistic close shot of a baddie plummeting, forever it seems, to his death off the side of a building -- it's not nearly enough to save this confusing, bizarre little film. Banderas (whose sunless performance here recalls nothing of his similarly themed but vastly better-written role in Richard Donner's superior Assassins) plays Jeremiah Ecks, a former FBI gun maven who's on the outs with life after losing his wife (Soto) in the line of fire some years back. His hangdog gloom is lifted a wee bit when his ex-boss Martin (Sandoval) informs him that she's actually very much alive and living with wealthy evildoer Gant (Henry), who, not coincidentally, is rustling feathers at various U.S. spy agencies with his attempts to smuggle into the country zippy new microscopic death machines -- tiny time bombs that can be inserted into a victim's bloodstream and activated by remote control. Sever (Liu), the NIA's top Female Asian Assassin in Black (and you can bet they've got a room full of 'em somewhere in West Virginia), is also out to snuff Gant for her own reasons. When the pair collide -- along with another DIA agent out to nail Ecks (Ray Park of Darth Maul fame) -- there are lots of pretty explosions to get you all googly-eyed, but precious little in the way of what you'd actually call filmmaking. To a certain extent we have the last decade's romance of the hyperwired Hong Kong action cinema to blame for this. Kaos has obviously screened his way through everything John Woo, Tsui Hark, and Ringo Lam ever did, but aside from their gosh-wow ultraviolence and raging motorcycle love he's come away with less than nothing when it comes to what made the great HK action filmmakers so wonderful in the first place. Missing entirely is any sense of conviction in the characters' emotions or personal realities -- Ecks and Sever are cartoony no-shows in the passion department, something with which John Woo never had a problem. (Remember the ill-starred lovers in The Killer? Kaos doesn't.) To make a bad movie worse, even Ballistic's fight scenes, which ought to be the film's strong suit, are poorly edited, slice 'n' diced into incomprehensible blurs of flying fists (or feet) and little else. Who, exactly, is fighting whom here? Ah, yes, that would be me: fighting off the urge to doze.