BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER (2002; Dir.: Wych Kaosayananda)
By Daniel Barnes
The first Dare Daniel challenge was no easy feat — just saying the title out loud is believed to cause a new form of brain cancer. “Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever” is a shallow spy thriller utterly devoid of humanity that substitutes action scenes, shitty techno music, train explosions, and Lucy Liu slinking around in a black jumpsuit for plot and character. Despite all of this, the movie is terrible.
The story, such as it is, revolves around an ex-spy named Ecks (he is played by Antonio Banderas, so activate the Subtitles option on your DVD player at your own discretion) who is lured back into the game when he learns that the wife he thought was murdered is still alive. The secret lies with Sever, another rogue spy, who has just kidnapped the son of an enigmatic spy kingpin in revenge for the murder of her own child. As Ecks gets closer to Sever, he learns that the kingpin masterminded both deaths, and that the kidnapped child is really his own son.
Yes, “Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever” is another in a line of films with the word “vs.” in the title in which the word’s implied confrontation between the titular protagonists turns out to be largely irrelevant to the story (more, they often share the same third enemy). Why is this? Why tease? That would be like billing a football game as Patriots vs. Dolphins, then having the Patriots and Dolphins join forces midway through the second quarter to defeat the Atlanta Falcons.
“Ballistic” is certainly one of the more dehumanized movies I’ve ever seen. It seems to begin 20 minutes into the story, with no development, setting, or coherence, and continues as such for the rest of the film. When both Ecks and then Sever flash back to their deceased loved ones, they only see an anonymous image of a car blowing up . Not a face, or eyes, or a smile, or laughter…just an exploding automobile. It’s the only thing that passes for an inner life here.
Liu’s character is supposed to be some sort of kung fu superspy badass, but the fight scenes are so slow and measured they look like “Kill Bill” rehearsal footage. When she’s not slap-fighting, Liu is slinking from shadow to shadow in the aforementioned black jumpsuit. She also has precious few lines, leaving Banderas to carry the load of the dialogue (and what a burdensome load it is!). This made me wonder if she was too abashed to speak on camera, a la Vampira in “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, which would make Antonio Banderas the Tor Johnson of “Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever”.
Eventually, there is a showdown in one of those abandoned industrial sites that action filmmakers love so much, as all three spies start blowing up trains, so many that I momentarily thought I was hallucinating).
After a few more explosions, Banderas is reunited with his wife and son, and Lucy Liu activates some sort of freaky robot bug to give the kingpin a heart attack.
Finally, there is scene of reconciliation between Ecks and Sever over the beautiful Vancouver skyline. “Ballistic” deserves a modicum of credit for originality in that it’s the only film I’ve ever seen that was obviously shot in Canada on the cheap that didn’t try to pretend it was set in an American city. There are so many aerial shots of the city and references to Victoria Island, it would be almost impossible to fake.
In many respects, “Ballistic” is the epitome of dumbed-down international filmmaking (and you’ll be happy to know it was co-produced by Showtime After Dark auteur Andrew Stevens) — get a couple of names for the posters, cast an international cast for tax breaks and overseas financing, explode enough things to fill a 90-second preview, get some house music for the soundtrack, hire a music video director, shoot it in Canada, skip the plot and call it a movie. Tie it into the crappiest-looking video game ever created, and you’re done.