By Daniel Barnes
*Originally published on The Barnesyard blog in September 2005.
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 lurking 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 (Antonio Banderas plays him, so activate the Subtitles option on your DVD player at your 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 child. As Ecks gets closer to Sever, he learns that the kingpin masterminded both deaths and that the kidnapped child is his 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 mostly 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 undoubtedly 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 it continues as such for the rest of the film. When both Ecks and then Sever flashback 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 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 heavy 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 gets reunited with his wife and son, and Lucy Liu activates a freaky robot bug to give the kingpin a heart attack.
Finally, there is a 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 shot in Canada on the cheap that didn’t try to “stand in” for in an American city. There are so many aerial shots of the city and references to Victoria Island that 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.
Read more of Daniel’s reviews at Dare Daniel and Rotten Tomatoes, and listen to Daniel on the Dare Daniel podcast.
Categories: Dare Daniel Classic