If it weren't for director Wych "Kaos" Kaosayananda's laughably excessive use of slow-motion, the convoluted, monotonous, mindlessly flashy, espionage-action bomb "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" would be about 12 minutes long -- which might have made it almost watchable.
In a plot more scattershot than its endless, aimless rounds of ammunition, "Ballistic" kitchen-sinks together rival government intel agencies, microscopic assassination nano-bots, poorly faked deaths and new identities, a kidnapped kid that must be rescued in "less than 12 hours" for no explained reason, and rogue spies avenging their murdered families. It's nearly impossible to keep track of who's trying to kill whom and why, but that's of little importance to Bangkok film industry refugee Kaos. As long as somebody is getting shot or something is blowing up, he couldn't care less.
The uninspired bedlam that passes for action in this disaster isn't any more lucid than the story. Shrapnel-flying, cartwheel-turning shootout scenes are cheap, disorderly rip-offs from the "The Matrix." Wet asphalt used to give the movie a slick look makes for boring motorcycle "chases" that never exceed 40 mph (and even at that speed it's hard to say who's the chaser and who's the chasee). And Kaos seems to live by the mantra "why shoot at someone when you can set off explosions all around them -- and still miss?"
Lucy Liu -- all throaty whispers and empty, angry stares -- plays Agent Sever, the intended target of most of those explosions. An ex-spy out for revenge against her agency because (as near as I can gather) they blew up her baby, she's constantly firing machine guns that weigh more than she does and kicking kung-fu butt in mundane, over-choreographed fight scenes left lifeless by obvious pulled punches and poorly planned camera angles.
Scruffy, unshaven, weary-looking Antonio Banderas co-stars as Agent Ecks, a ace spy who retired because he thinks his family is dead too. But in fact, the snarling, spy-ring leader bad guy (Gregg Henry) is now married to Ecks' wife (Talisa Soto), who thinks he's dead and...oh, nevermind. It's not worth explaining.
Ecks has been pulled back into service because his supposedly extraordinary skills are needed to find Sever. This despite the fact that everywhere she goes, she calls attention to herself (blowing stuff up, stealing bright yellow cars to get away in), and the bad guys (or are they the good guys?) show up within two minutes, guns a-blazing despite being told to take her alive.
From time to time, Kaos stops the movie's meager momentum dead in its tracks to catch up on the plot in long, discombobulated scenes of cursory, expository dialogue. But more often than not these episodes only add to the confusion, serving up heaps of superfluous details about ill-defined characters that are too generic to care about in the first place.
Ecks and Sever eventually team up for a disorderly, kill- everyone- in- sight- but- don't- do- it- the- easy- way finale in an abandoned train yard full of exploding boxcars. Even this scene, which should be simple, straightforward action, is unnecessarily complicated by additional, confounding story twists and the return of the hitherto barely mentioned killer nano-bot subplot.
I could catalog a whole litany of other nonsense in "Ballistic" (e.g. if the movie's spy agencies are all American, why does Kaos go out of his way to clarify that it takes place in Canada?). But nit-picking the details of an action flick that can't even serve up a coherent gun battle is a waste of time. Suffice it to say, "Ballistic" is one of the most incompetent big-budget action movies I've ever seen.