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"Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever"

Directed by Kaos.
Written by Alan B. McElroy.
Starring Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  10/16/02


Yeah, I saw it.  I had too!  I’m an ACTION MOVIE FAN.  There are almost no action releases on the fall slate, so that should tell you that I am actually considering seeing the Jason Statham “film” “The Transporter” as well.  (Oh my.  Oh my God!)

I have actually been following “Ballistic” since the end of last year, when the video game was released for the Game Boy Advance.  The setup is promising:  Agent Ecks (Antonio Banderas) is selected to head up an FBI task force to track down Sever (Lucy Liu), a rogue DIA agent that has kidnapped a former agent’s son.  Two trained professionals, Ecks and Sever spend the entire video game trying to kill each other.  These kinds of movies can be very good (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day”), so-so (“Demolition Man”), or just plain bad (“Assassins”).  I’ve felt since I first saw Liu onscreen that emotionless killers are what she can do best, and she is perfectly cast here as Sever, a role originally written as a guy.  Her eyes consistently look blank, and she is flat-out hot.  One also gets the feeling that she could whoop your ass if you catcalled her too many times.  Banderas is usually good in action films (save for the aforementioned “Assassins”), so I figured hey, what the heck.

Unfortunately, the execution of the ideas here is mostly atrocious.  Why is this?  Well, the reasons are numerous (besides the film’s way-too-long title), but I’ll offer four.

-->The film was shot PG-13, and ended up with an R.  According to press reports, “Ballistic” was intended to be a PG-13, but because of its numerous shootouts, ended up as an R due to gun violence.  So, you come in thinking there will be adult-level action scenes and instead, you get “XXX”—glazed-over death scenes (there are no head shots, bloodied uniforms and what not) where men get hit with one shot and fall over dead.  This would be fine if the shots hit guys in the head...but, they are hitting men already wearing Kevlar vests square in the chest.  The ass-kicking provided by Sever is subdued, and because her fighting scenes are not sped up, her kicks come off looking too choreographed and not lethal enough.  These are the kinds of problems that have absolutely destroyed parts of the last two James Bond films...which makes me worry about the upcoming “Die Another Day.”

-->Easier lines for Antonio.  Hey, I love the guy, but some of his lines are nearly impossible to understand...not that he is saying anything too important, but it would have been nice to understand it.  In “Spy Kids”, there was never a problem; here, it’s like his first films in the English-speaking US market following a film career that took place mostly in Spanish-speaking roles.

-->A total waste of Ray Park.  Okay, so clearly the budget for the film was such that Gregg Henry (also the bad guy in “Payback”) and Ray Park were the only guys available for head bad guy and main lieutenant roles.  But, if you got Ray Park—known heretofore as Darth Maul—you might as well use his martial-arts skills.  So, why only use him in one scene?  ONE SCENE!!  This is where I think to myself, I know writers that could work in Hollywood right now!

-->Bad child acting.  The child that Liu’s character Sever kidnaps in the early stages of the film is so bad that I just started feeling sorry for him in about his second scene.  I mean, seriously, you just don’t fathom how good Haley Joel Osment is until you see films with truly-bad child actors.  This is why the Hollywood mantra is “no kids, no pets.”

I will admit, “Ballistic” director Kaos stages a couple of the action scenes pretty well and it appears that Banderas and Liu are doing almost all of their own stuntwork, which always earns films extra Bellview points.  The end sequence is not too shabby, and it features enough explosions and loud gunfire to appease almost any male appetite.  But, it could have been so much the whole damned movie.  Don’t worry, it will probably be on HBO by Christmas time.

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09