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Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever   F

Warner Bros. Pictures

Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Kaos
Writer: Alan McElroy
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Lucy Lui, Gregg Henry, Talisa Soto, Roger R. Cross, Ray Park.

Review by Rob Vaux

Diary of a Film Screening

September 20, 2002, 9:20 p.m. I settle down in my seat to watch Ballistic, a mayhem-laced Hollywood boomfest that didn't quite make the cut for summer. That means it's probably not all that great. Doesn't matter. I've had a long week and I'm not asking for much. It stars the teeny Lucy Liu, who kicks high, and the smoldering Antonio Banderas, who can at least sweat convincingly. They'll run around, shoot some bad guys, and blow up some scenery with impressive pyrotechnics. How bad could it be?

9:25 p.m. The film begins.

9:39 p.m. Correction: after 15 minutes of ads and bad previews, the film begins.

9:45 p.m. First set piece. A bunch of sleazy DIA agents (apparently, the DIA is an actual government agency) are driving a small child away from his mother. Liu rams them with a really big truck, blows up some cars, shoots the sleazy agents, and runs off with the kid. It plays just like the armored car heist in Heat, except it sucks. This does not bode well.

9:53 p.m. Banderas appears for the first time, crying into a drink. He looks really smelly. Apparently his name is Jeremiah Ecks, an FBI agent who can't get over his dead wife. A bunch of other FBI agents show up at the bar. They want him to find Liu and the kid. Why? Because his wife isn't really dead. This makes no sense, but at least it gets him off that manky stool.

10:00 p.m. Ecks is on his way to Vancouver, which is interesting because I'm pretty sure the FBI has no jurisdiction there. We get some plot exposition. It sounds important. I wish I could hear it, but Banderas appears to be explaining it to a line of drool creeping down his chin. I catch a few snippets about a microscopic robot that can cause heart attacks in the person into which it's injected, and a group of Chinese orphan girls who the DIA trains to be assassins; agent Sever (Liu) is one of them. Both the orphan girls and the robot are tied into the stolen kid and Ecks' wife somehow. The details are vague. Maybe someone will ask the line of drool to clarify things.

10:03 p.m. I'm still trying to puzzle out Banderas' mumbling when another set piece hits us. Liu is attacked by some bad people in a mall. I'm not entirely certain who these bad people are. DIA? Local police? The action is confusing and makes no sense. Liu is killing a lot of people. Is this good? Bad? The film doesn't seem to care, so I guess I won't either. Maybe I'll start checking off clichés. Shattering plate glass windows? Check. Stalwart partner with family photos? Check. Pounding corporate techno soundtrack? Check. There's no warehouse full of leaky pipes and clanky chains, but it's early yet. The way Ballistic is going, we're bound to see one, probably during the climax.

10:07 p.m. I recognize one of the bad guys. It's Ray Park, who played the unbearably cool Darth Maul. He's less cool here. The dialogue seems to confound him, he doesn't scare me in the least, and... well... he's not doing anything. He screams into a radio and glares homoerotically at the film's other bad guy (Gregg Henry, wearing a silly fedora), but he doesn't actually stomp anyone into the pavement like he clearly should. He's good at that sort of thing. Maybe they'll let him do it before we're done.

10:12 p.m. More dialogue, just as confusing as the rest of the film. Every time they try to clarify the plot complications, it just makes things worse. Director Wych "Kaos" Kaosayananda delivers character development as the barest pretext for all the action. It serves no function except to point the good guys and bad guys at each other. Given that, you'd think that the story would be smart enough to stay simple, but nothing follows any logical chain. It's all near-gibberish: the behavior on-screen follows no recognizable human emotion yet insists on being justified with long, messy bouts of exposition.

10:18 p.m. Ray Park still hasn't done anything.

10:22 p.m. I think I've figured out the pattern to this movie. The bad action scenes exist to cover up for the lousy dialogue and incoherent plot. The lousy dialogue and incoherent plot exist to cover up for the bad action scenes. Every time our minds start to reel against the banal incoherence the characters are spewing, Kaosayananda tries to distract us with a new round of sound and noise. But the sound and noise is just as limp. The fights, shoot-outs and car chases feel like stock clips from old Starsky and Hutch episodes. And before we can fully ascertain how the action is progressing, Kaosayananda switches gears again with another infusion of "story." So it goes, back-and-forth, back-and-forth like a dreary shell game. It might have worked if any part of it were the least bit engaging, but craps smells the same no matter how often you refresh it.

10:24 p.m. Ray Park still hasn't done anything.

10:32 p.m. Something is happening on-screen. Cars are flipping over. Liu is kicking high. It doesn't matter; it's all just mindless spasms at this point. They might as well let the reel melt against the projection bulb. Then we could marvel at the pretty colors it makes.

10:36 p.m. Maybe if I claw my eyeballs out, I won't have to watch the rest of this.

10:55 p.m. The clanky warehouse arrives right on schedule.

10:58 p.m. Ray Park finally gets to do something. It doesn't last long enough to justify the wait.

11:05 p.m. The credits roll. The barn burns. I weep for the 86 minutes of my life which this film ruthlessly tore from me. I resolve to warn others of the dangers I have endured. So here I stand to tell you, good reader, in a voice grown hoarse with cries of woe: don't go see Ballistic. You'll have more fun setting fire to yourself in the parking lot. You'll be more entertained getting hit by a bus. Pushing this out of the summer season was a wise move, but they should have pushed farther... or at least arranged for it to crawl away and die a quiet death. No audience, however undemanding, should have to endure the likes of Ballistic, and no filmmaker should be desperate enough to make it.

Review published 09.24.2002.

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