So nice they named it twice for some reason? I actually was always curious to see what this BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER movie was all about, so those of you who voted it up in the SUGGESTIONS gave me that nudge I’ve been needing for years.
Antonio Banderas plays Jeremiah Ecks, an ex-FBI agent who went deep undercover and faked his death but also thought his wife was dead but she wasn’t but now he’s retired but they come to him and say his wife is actually alive and he should help them go after this kidnapper Sever (Lucy Liu) because she knows where his wife is. She took the son of innocent Talisa Soto (MORTAL KOMBAT) and rich asshole Gregg Henry (PAYBACK) and she keeps him in a big metal cage in a Batcave type underground lair but she seems to like him because she brings him cafeteria lunch trays loaded with good food like home made macaroni and cheese, Jello and Ding-Dongs, and he says “Thank you” politely.
At the beginning you actually don’t know it’s that convoluted, it seems elegantly simple, mostly an extended action sequence with Liu running around in black leather, blowing up cars, firing rockets, doing her CHARLIE’S ANGELS gymnastic-fu moves, having shootouts with SWAT teams from the tops of buildings. There’s something missing in the editing or something, it’s not great action, but it’s pretty cool because it’s from the age when you tried to show things clearly, and also when it was easier to not do things digital. In fact I don’t remember noticing anything computery in this, it’s a whole lot of practical stunts and pyrotechnics and stuff, way more than your average American action movie. Lots of cars crashing and flipping and getting torn apart.
There’s a real cool shot where a SWAT guy gets shot and falls backwards and the camera follows him in his slow motion Hans Grueber plummet all the way to landing on and smashing a parked car. I guess that had to be at least partly digital, but it looked good to me.
It’s funny, I guess I still think of Liu as a straight actress pretending to do action, because she was in that Ally McBeal show first before I saw her in this kind of stuff. But now that I think about it she’s done more than enough to be considered a legit action star. She does martial arts in CHARLIE’S ANGELS, CHARLIE’S ANGELS FULL THROTTLE, KILL BILL VOLUME 1, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS and BALLISTIC, plus being in PAYBACK adds to her legitimacy.
She does more action here than acting. For the first half I was convinced this was the reason for the movie’s terrible reputation, and that it was unfair. It leans way heavier on action than almost all movies, and since the action is only decent and not THE RAID the professional non-action loving critics who were the only people who saw it gave it extra hell for being mindless nonsense. I figured it was one of those deals where they’re punishing it for its best qualities – if you edited out half of the good mayhem it would’ve seemed like a normal boring movie and the reviews would’ve been way less harsh.
But when it got to the part where it was all exposition and plot twist the hate started to make more sense to me. I think I genuinely don’t understand the story because as I understand it it makes no sense. It seemed to me like they were saying that Ecks faked his death (as part of going undercover?) and then did not know where his wife was, even though she stayed with the exact guy he left her with moments before blowing up his car to play dead. Even if for some reason he didn’t think to check there the whole reason he was faking his death had to do with investigating this guy played by Gregg Henry, so you’d think at some point in his investigation he would discover that his wife was now with Gregg Henry and has a kid with him. And I didn’t understand in the back story why at the beginning of the movie he thought his wife was dead.
I know some of you have apparently seen this since you wanted me to see it, so if you understand all this please explain it to me. To really follow it I might need a guy narrating, like in this clip of the video game it’s apparently adapted from:
Banderas isn’t all that compelling in the role, but he has two little acting moments that I enjoyed, both in the same room. One is him waiting for another agent, awkwardly sitting with the guy’s daughter:
The other one is his blase reaction when a bunch of cops kick the door in and point guns at him:
He doesn’t even flinch or stand up out of his chair.
Maybe people would’ve been easier on it with a different title. ECKS VS. SEVER is a little weird since it’s obvious from the beginning that they’re not on opposite sides and will team up rather than, you know, verse each other. And they don’t call her Sever very much. And Ecks is a weird last name. And more importantly BALLISTIC? Why two names? This is another one that reminds me of Ice-T’s The Iceberg: Freedom of Speech, Just Watch What You Say. But at least those were both cool titles.
At the beginning of the game I guess you gotta choose whether you’re Ecks or Sever. Maybe at the beginning of releasing the movie they shoulda chosen one of the titles.
The director is Wych Kaosayananda, who gets one of his credits as “Kaos” (note to Kaos: no last name is another easy way to attract smarmy dismissals. See: McG, Tarsem). He’d previously done a Thai movie called FAH and not much since. The writer is more prolific, he’s Alan B. McElroy. I don’t want to be a dick but these are the facts, he wrote the following movies: HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS, SPAWN, LEFT BEHIND, WRONG TURN, THE MARINE. But he did get a story credit on RAPID FIRE, arguably the best Brandon Lee movie. So it’s not all bad news.
I wish I could wholeheartedly stand up for this one. I can’t. Instead I’ll just say that it does have alot of action. It’s not as bad as they say. But most of they never really watch movies like this anyway.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.