BALLISTIC (no relation to ECKS VS. SEVER) is a 1995 DTV joint that I bought after seeing it on Michael Jai White’s filmography, right before his breakout role in TYSON, and after the Don “The Dragon” Wilson movie RING OF FIRE 3: LION STRIKE. He’s thirteenth-billed on its IMDb page so I figured he’d just be standing with his arms folded behind the bad guy in one scene, but I was intrigued enough by the rest of the cast to order a copy on VHS.
The star is Marjean Holden (SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION, Sheeva in MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION) as Jesse Gavin, who seems to be a prostitute in the opening scene, until it’s revealed that she’s undercover. She’s trying to bust some limousine-riding creep after selling him a bag of coke, and has to break off her heels to chase him down an alley.
During the pursuit she accidentally pulls her firearm on an old timey stereotype of a bag lady (Rosie Taravella, flight attendant on a three-parter of Who’s the Boss?), allowing the bad guy to sneak up on her and knock the gun out of her hand. When she’s done beating him up, the homeless lady is holding the gun, covering her, and helps carry the unconscious suspect in her shopping cart, before declaring “You know what you are, sweetie? You’re ballistic!”
Unfortunately we already saw the title fired onto the screen earlier, we don’t get it there, but the awkwardly titular dialogue is still appreciated.
Jesse has recently moved from piddly, unimpressive homicide to “the big leagues” of UTC – Unadulterated Testosterone Conference or something. The rest of the team are men, including hugely-pony-tailed James Lew (ACTION JACKSON, BEST OF THE BEST, NIGHT OF THE WARRIOR, MISSION OF JUSTICE, AMERICAN NINJA 5, RING OF STEEL, CAGE II), and don’t welcome her, respect her, or give her any kind of backup. They suck. The boss, Underwood (Charlies Napier, SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON) is okay, but doesn’t give her much support. There’s a secretary or something (I guess Julie St. Claire, one episode of Freddy’s Nightmares?) who offers solidarity by saying “Men – can’t live with ‘em, can’t shoot ‘em in the balls when they piss you off,” but she doesn’t end up being a major character.
I don’t think Jesse helps matters by pulling a gun on another officer (Deke Anderson, “Tiny Ash #1,” ARMY OF DARKNESS) and berating him for how he protects his yo-yo-spinning witness (Michael Earl Reid, “Gold Tooth,” ARMY OF DARKNESS), but she’s correct about him. He’s conveniently out getting food when gunmen show up.
Meanwhile, there’s a villain. His name is BRADEN, which is also his vanity license plate, and he’s played by Sam J. Jones (LADY DRAGON 2). He’s introduced having sex with a secretary in his little office at the empty box warehouse, while his bodybuilder girlfriend Claudia (Cory Everson, DOUBLE IMPACT, the TV version of Mallory in NATURAL BORN KILLERS) is right outside with the suits watching a fight – which is where Michael Jai White comes in as “Quint.” He looks very young, very slim, but also completely chiseled and basically doing a great showreel of spinning and flying kicks.
He doesn’t really get to show if he can act yet. There’s only one part where he talks, and it’s not an important line, so I kinda wished they’d let him stay completely silent. But he’s actually in it a whole bunch, sometimes as a henchman, but mostly in these long, well choreographed warehouse fights, the best one being a back-and-forth with the prolific topknot guy Nils Allen Stewart (read my review of THE SHADOW for the origin of my fascination with him), whose character is credited as “The Warrior.”
And somehow I’ve gone this far without mentioning that Richard SHAFT Roundtree plays Jesse’s dad Harold, an ex-officer who (as things go in these movies) had coke planted on him by corrupt cops and is in prison. He’s comically overprotective/patriarchal toward his daughter, warning her about her “skinny ass white boy” boyfriend Ray (Joel Beeson, an episode of Friends, an episode of Baywatch Nights). IMDb says Beeson was a Chippendale, which is not surprising – he’s kind of a bland, hunky muscle dude, but I liked his dorky banter with Harold when the latter gets out somehow and they become a mismatched buddy team helping their girl clear her name after she gets set up.
Calling BALLISTIC an unheralded gem might be too much, but it’s the kind of shit I love to discover – made up of cliches, but put together with personality, some idiosyncrasies that make you chuckle, but also genuinely funny jokes and some earned swagger. Lew’s character is named “Woo,” and after the third or fourth time he went flying through the air with two pistols I thought “ah ha, because we were all so excited about John Woo back then.” Lew is also the stunt coordinator, leading a team that included POINT DOOM/HALF PAST DEAD 2 director Art Camacho and the legendary “Judo” Gene LeBell.
Also of note: According to IMDb, this is only the third film scored by Tyler Bates. Wikipedia says he was also one of the composers of TAMMY AND THE T-REX, making this his fourth. Either way, it is widely known that BALLISTIC is the one and only reason he was hired to score DAWN OF THE DEAD, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, 300, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, JOHN WICK, ATOMIC BLONDE, HOBBS & SHAW, etc. etc. 
I can’t deny that the movie objectifies its heroine – it opens with her in the shower, and she and Ray have a cable-softcore style sex scene on a bed surrounded by white tulle. But she only wears dresses when she’s playing a role – she prefers a leather jacket, which she looks cool in. Her vibe is “lanky Pam Grier.” She’s taller than all the men on the UTC, and most of the men in the movie. Holden handles her fights well, and it turns out that’s because she’s a martial artist and a stuntwoman who was in SPEED, SPEED 2 and BLADE. She’s also one of the master vampires in John Carpenter’s VAMPIRES! I’m not sure, but that does look like her in the middle there with our boy from KARATE KID PART III.
Unfortunately, they pull that thing where you’re hyped to see the woman hero slap the shit out of a bunch of men but they feel a responsibility to create one (1) female villain (six-time Ms. Olympia Everson) for the climactic fight. Fortunately, Claudia is a good antagonist – in an earlier scene she lifts a man above her head before beating him to death – and it’s a good fight. Jesse handles her, has some good lines, and at least gets to scrap with the boys a little.
Director Kim Bass was a writer for True Colors and In Living Color, and he created Sister, Sister and Kenan & Kel. Interestingly, he acted a few times, and one of those times was in the early Jackie Chan attempt at an American movie, James Glickenhaus’ THE PROTECTOR (1985). He also wrote the Martin Lawrence movie A THIN LINE BETWEEN LOVE AND HATE, his most mainstream movie, the year after he made his directorial debut with this. He wouldn’t direct again until 2007’s SUCCUBUS: HELL-BENT, followed by JUNKYARD DOG (2010), KILL SPEED (2010) and DAY OF DAYS (2017).
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.