Pay good money to see Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever and you have nobody but yourself to blame. The signs, after all, shine so bright in warning you about this waste of brain cells that Stevie Wonder sent me an e-mail earlier this week telling me Ballistic would stink on ice.
Heck, even Stevie Wonder jokes are fresher than the Ballistic script. Blessed with the most ridiculous title in recent memory, Ballistic pits icy cool Antonio Banderas against smoldering hot Lucy Liu and watches the sparks fly. And fly. Then explode. And then fly some more. Liu, as rogue DIA agent Sever, kidnaps a child who's unknowingly carrying the latest invention of an unidentified shadow government. The device turns soldiers into flawless assassins. Eager to get their own hands on the device, the FBI blackmails former agent Jeremiah Ecks (Banderas) into stopping Sever and retrieving the boy.
First-time director Wych Kaosayananda prefers to go by the shortened Kaos. It's pronounced "chaos," and now we know why. Someone test this man for attention deficit disorder, for he can't go ten minutes without destroying something. And not just lighting it up ... I mean full on decimation. Ballistic has three or four unrelated, pre-planned action set pieces, and screenwriter Alan McElroy receives the thankless task of connecting them with the thinnest of plot threads. Needless to say, he doesn't do a very good job.
Not that I was expecting a Jane Austen period romance, but a little plot with my C4 goes a long, long way. Kaos does avoid using tired Matrix gimmicks to spice up his action, preferring an old fashioned slow motion shot. These almost provide Ballistic with a quaint retro feel characteristic of international spy thrillers circa 1975, when burned out heroes banished to rain-soaked foreign locales (really Vancouver) raced against a gaggle of anonymous government cells to save the planet.
Few actors could pull off Ecks, and Banderas reminds us that he's one of them. Played like the evil twin to Gregorio Cortez from the Spy Kids franchise, Banderas buries every other line of dialogue underneath a wet blanket of boredom and disdain. He's the lone treat in Ballistic, but even he grows tiresome before long. Liu never breaks a sweat or shows emotion, making it difficult to care about her existence. In addition, her backstory takes a back seat to Ecks' history, even though his makes less sense as the movie moves along. References are made to a family she lost, but we're never sure how or why.
Ballistic also needs better baddies. Roger R. Cross, playing the criminal mastermind behind the convoluted central scam, is a poor man's Gary Busey, who's a poor man's Robert Mitchum himself. And Ray Park without any sort of make-up just isn't scary. Girls could kick his tail, and in Ballistic, a girl does.
It's impossible to single out the one or two things that went wrong with this masochistic game of one-upmanship between the director and his inner demon. In reality, nothing works. Thirty minutes into Ballistic, I scratched my head at the muddled plot and stuck my fingers in my ears. Sixty minutes in, I wanted to pull Kaos' well-worn copy of Hard Boiled out of his VCR and beat him senseless with it. After ninety minutes, it was time to leave. One more minute and I would have gone ballistic myself.
If you really want to try your patience, check out the bonus feature on the Ballistic DVD: an Ecks vs. Sever version of rock-scissors-paper! Yes, now there's a way to settle those bar bets, civilized-style.
Feel Antonio's close shave!