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Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever

tn_ballisticSo 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.

mp_ballisticIt’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.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 at 3:16 am and is filed under Action, Reviews, Videogame. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

28 Responses to “Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever”

  1. I really had the same reaction. I liked the first half a lot, but then the “story” kicks in and I lost interest in the movie.

    Actionwise there are two scenes that I still remember: The mentioned one with the SWAT guy falling from a roof (I had to rewind that scene over and over, because it looked so cool) and one moment in the finale that looked like a blooper, when Banderas is running from some explosions, but one of them is suddenly going off right next to him and he is running through a fireball for a second or two.

  2. Hey, I was hoping for you to tell ME what the fuck was going on!!! lol

    I mean the first action scene is long but not very involving but I thought I knew what was going on then… BAM! Are there three factions here? Why does Liu know what she knows yet never seems to ever let Antonio know in any knowing manner? Then after all that mess the end is another big but not particularly exciting action scene that has some high tech tower lab in a train yard?

    Really, what is going on here? Is this a medium budget action movie like they don’t make any more, or is it expensive DTV? And why would Antonio trust Gregg Henry is the first place? He’s Gregg fucking Henry! How can so many bullets, bodies, rockets and vehicles be so uninvolving?

    Anyway I thought it was an interesting failure. You’re right, there is more action than in most action movies, why is that?

  3. The Undefeated Gaul

    April 16th, 2013 at 5:29 am

    Saw this a long time ago, but it was so bland that I remember almost nothing about it. One thing that sticks in my mind is a fight with Darth Maul, but only because it was so disappointing. Turns out Darth Maul is a lot less impressive when speaking with his own voice and not wearing Darth Maul make-up.

  4. The Crow is Brandon Lee’s best movie by far. By a long mile.
    I don’t have a problem with directors with one name, like Tarsen, because he’s indian, it is part of his real name and the rest of his name is quite hard to remember for a western person. But i do have problems with pseudonymums like Kaos because it reads terribly pretentious for a maker of a dumb shaloow action movie, or McG because that’s the type of nickname one has when a kid but looks utterly stupid on an adult specialy if that is going to be by which you are going to sign your professional work.
    Besides, Tarsen is actually a good director and Kaos and McG are not.

  5. To be honest, kaos seems like a pretentious pseudonym at first, but then you realize it’s just a shortened version of his real name that he probably chose because he thought the same people who make fun of M. Night Shyamalan’s name would make fun of “Kaosayananda”.

  6. Asimovlives lives! Where you been, man? I’ve had to be the crazy ranting motherfucker around here in your absence. It’s incredibly draining. I don’t know how you do it.

    As for BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER: REQUIEM: THE FINAL CHAPTER: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS: FULL THROTTLE, I’ve never seen a movie so thoroughly piss away a full hour of pretty solid nonstop action. But what, you expect narrative coherence from a movie based on a video game about a walking hand?

  7. I was about ready to come to McElroy’s defense but I looked at his IMDB page and it’s really hard. However, Halloween 4 is a good movie and one of the better horror movie sequels.

  8. Have to post cos baffled at evil (trolling?) suggestions to watch this. I bought it, with like real money and time and all, so I was damn sure gonna watch it through once. Took 4 tries before I finally made it through without falling asleep. Having essentially watched it 4 times, and now read a review of it, I still don’t get it. Can’t thank you for this one.

  9. from what I understand the game was based on the movie, not the other way around, but the movie got delayed and the game wound up coming out first

  10. also, 2002 was a pretty awkward year, it was the year that “the 90’s” finally died off and we started to enter the whole “post 9/11” era and this is an example of a movie caught in that weird twilight where it wanted to be a cool post-The Matrix action flick and just wound feeling very awkward by 2002

    one thing I find interesting is that you can trace “the 90’s as a cultural movement through the X-Files, which started in 1993, the year that the 90’s really started to fully come into it’s own and ended in 2002, the year that the 90’s died for good

  11. Oh, you’re right. I thought the one that shows Antonio on the cover was based on the movie but that the other one was the basis. Wikipedia says the first game was based on an early version of the script. Weird.

  12. I always said thet the 80s ended in 1993, the year when SUPER MARIO BROS (the last 80s movie) and JURASSIC PARK (the first 90s movie) came out. I do agree with X-FILES.

  13. No mention of the manatee shot? I recall there’s one scene in the movie in an aquarium where a manatee is mugging for the camera behind a serious conversation. Pure hilarity.

  14. CJ Holden – yup, cultural movements don’t begin and end as soon as a new decade technically begins, it’s more fluid than that, the early 90’s were very 80’s esque, the “90’s” as we know it did not really being until Clinton entered office, similarly the “post 9/11 2000’s” ended in 2008 with the election of Obama and the collapse of the economy, which took people’s focus away from terrorists and the Iraq war for the most part, I don’t know what you would call the post 2008 era except that I think we’re still living in it more or less, we’ve yet to truly transition into the “2010s” just yet, but maybe soon….

    it’s a topic that I find very fascinating

  15. the 80’s began pretty damn quickly though, as soon as Reagan entered office it was on like Donkey Kong (and MTV’s debut the following year just solidified it)

  16. Kinda like how Raging Bull and The Elephant Man are really products of the 70’s, even though they came out in 1980 (and they both have protagonists yelling “I’m not an animal!”, and they’re both in black and white. Weird).

    Speaking of movies out of time, does anyone else think that The Girl Next Door is the best John Hughes movie not made by John Hughes?

  17. Knox, I would say that CAN’T HARDLY WAIT holds that title.

  18. Kaos was happy with the movie he’d shot, delivering the film to Warner Bros on time and under budget. However WB locked him out of the edit suite. Many character moments and scenes important to the plot were exised resulting in the film making little sense. The action scenes were also edited totally differently to how he’d planned them. They even fired his music composer. To this day Kaos hasn’t seen the finished film all the way through.

    After Ballistic he went on to shoot several high profile music videos and commercials. He’s now back in his native Thailand where he’s just finished his first film as director since Ballistic. It’s called ‘Angels’ and you can see the trailer and find more info here http://www.beyondhollywood.com/dustin-nguyen-is-a-dad-out-for-revenge-in-wych-kaosayanandas-angels/

  19. Where’s the action comprehensibility meter? Was the plot so incomprehensible that there’s just no point?

  20. Knox Harrington

    April 16th, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Pegsman, it’s funny, I was trying to make up my mind between those two when I wrote that comment. I decided on The Girl Next Door because it reminded me of Hughes’ more high-concept movies, like Ferris Bueller and Weird Science. But I have to agree with you. Can’t Hardly Wait is the shit.

    Oh, and uh… something something about that Ballistic movie.

  21. Not a bad film, but so fucking bland it becomes bad by default.

  22. Subtlety – I plan to use the ACR only on newer movies. I feel like this one comes from a more naive time when you could safely assume the action would be comprehensible in an action movie.

  23. I Donno about donkey kong, but you hit the nail on the head with Reagan.

    Reagan was the beginning of the media era and in a much more decisive way than anyone since because one of his first acts in office was to defund major portions of the FCC and eliminate a whole bunch if basic regulations that resulted in the consolidation of all media into 12 media mega-corporations (far fewer now). They also resulted in an explosion in profitability and the creation of far more overall media, even as fewer and fewer (white, hetrosexual men) controlled it.

    Some of these changes were good, but others were and are major problems for media ethics, fair competition laws, anti-trust laws and of course, diversity in programming.

  24. Also, ecks vs sever was my favorite gameboy game. I bought and loved both of those games. Really hard levels. And it had this cool feature where, if you played as Ecks, you’d have a bunch of levels where you were chasing sever through mazes. And if you played as sever, you’d have to make it through the same level maze running from ecks. Or you’d have to go through the level in the opposite direction. I’m not explaining t well, but the game was super fun and made good use of the ‘vs’ in the title.

  25. it’s interesting just how much the President sets the tone for any given era of not just the United States, but the whole world

  26. It’s kind of an interesting derail, and I’ll shut up if it’s not appropriate, but I’d put “The 80s” beginning sometime near the end of 1981, when synthpop was starting to take over, and ending upon the release of Nevermind in 1991. I was too young to really experience the beginning, but the end was fun. It’s like grunge sucked all the air out of the room and if you didn’t trade your glam shit for plaid you looked dumb quick.

    I think it’s less politics and more music and fashion.

    I’m not sure when they’ll say the 2000s ended. Culture has fragmented and there’s more niche groups than ever. I’m not sure what would make a good dividing line.

  27. The 80s did not end with the release of Nevermind in 1991. The 80s were over in 1987 when too many spoofs of classic 80s shows and comic books flooded the airwaves. The first show to change everything was ALF. The show had way too many sexual connotations to it and worse yet, the dolls and t-shirts were marketed to children. ALF with his long banana nose was always out to eat that pussy cat. There was nothing 80s about late ’86 to 1990.

  28. There’s a book about the beginning and prime of MTV that posits that “the 80’s” as a culture really started in 1983 when the network was more widespread across America, and also because it was the year THRILLER, PYROMANIA, and Madonna’s first big hits came out. Cinematically speaking, that influence would come around a year or two later, with TV shows like MIAMI VICE and the first “brat pack” movies.

    Musically speaking, I wouldn’t say at all that the 80’s necessarily ended with NEVERMIND. The legend is that Nirvana and grunge killed hair metal, which is partly true. Bands like Motley Crue and Poison (and the many bands who came out in their wake) slipped off the radar. But heavy metal was pretty potent in the early 90’s as a whole, Metallica and Ozzy were selling huge numbers. Even Bon Jovi and Def Leppard still had big albums come out the year after NEVERMIND. They wouldn’t really feel the sting of that impact until the mid-90’s, in America anyway. They were still huge in Europe and in other foreign markets.

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