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Should I Watch..? Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever
What's the big deal?
Ballistic: Ecks Vs Sever is an action thriller film released in 2002 and since its release, has frequently been criticized as one of the worst films ever released. Directed by Thai director Wych Kaosayananda under the pseudonym 'Kaos', the film stars Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu as opposing secret agents teaming up to take down a common enemy. The film's supporting cast include Gregg Henry, former Bond girl Talisa Soto and Darth Maul himself Ray Park. Made on a budget of $70 million, the film was instantly slated by critics who called it incoherent, unoriginal, inept and overloaded with special effects. Audiences agreed and the film's global takings fell well short of recouping the budget. Since its release, it hasn't gotten any better and still regularly tops various Top 10 lists as the worst film ever made.
Consigned to Benjamin Cox's Hall Of Shame
What's it about?
After the son of DIA Director Robert Gant is kidnapped, the suspect soon emerges in the shape of former DIA Agent Sever. While Gant ruthlessly pursues Sever with his own elite agents, washed-up FBI Agent Jeremiah Ecks is recruited back into the fold by his old boss Julio Martin. The reason for Ecks' departure was the loss of his wife Rayne but Martin stuns Ecks by stating that she is still alive. He swears to give Ecks all the information they have on Rayne's whereabout in exchange for helping to capture Sever.
However, it soon appears that things aren't what they seem. Sever's kidnapping of young Michael Gant was for his protection after discovering that Robert was using the boy to safely transport a deadly nanobot prototype designed to assassinate anyone injected with it. Eventually, Ecks and Sever realise that they both have a common enemy in Robert Gant and set aside their differences in order to take him down.
FBI Agent Jeremiah Ecks
DIA Director Robert Gant
Wych Kaosayananda *
Alan B. McElroy
Release Date (UK)
20th September, 2002
Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
What's to like?
Having willingly subjected myself to this film, I can honestly say that there was just one scene in the entire production where I found myself impressed. It comes during a shootout in Vancouver in Canada (where the FBI are usually found, of course!) and involves a stuntman playing one of many faceless goons dispatched by our heroes. He falls from the roof of a building and lands onto the roof of a car with the camera following him down in the process. The whole sequence takes less than fifteen seconds, perhaps. May I remind you that Ballistic: Ecks Vs Sever lasts for 91 long, arduous minutes. Safe to say, I didn't get that value-for-money feeling you get at one of those everything-for-a-pound shops.
I had much more fun with the box the DVD came in, which is a hilarious example of ridiculous hyperbole. The film certainly isn't a "furiously entertaining all-action ride" although it does offer a number of shootouts, the likes of which you've seen dozens of times before. I was also intrigued by the box's claim that the film is "the maximum in lethalness" - perhaps there is some dodgy translation work going on here but I'm fairly sure that lethality isn't something which can be measured in degrees. Exactly how lethal can something be - it either is lethal or... it isn't. Is a machine-gun more lethal than a grenade? Who knows?
- According to aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, not a single critic out of 115 reviews gave a positive account of this film. As a result, it remains one of the worst films ever covered on that site.
- The role of Sever was originally written for a male actor. Among those interested was Wesley Snipes, Vin Diesel and even Sylvester Stallone. Jet Li was also in the frame for the role but escaped with a brief uncredited cameo instead.
- The 2001 Game Boy Advance video game "Ecks Vs Sever" was actually based on an early draft for this film and ironically, was well praised by critics when it was released. It's believed to be the first example of such a product being launched before the film itself.
What's not to like?
Even lovers of turkey-cinema will quickly discover that Ballistic: Ecs Vs Sever is a depressing and repetitive foray into action movies that really fails to make any sort of headway. The story is nonsense and gets worse with every 'shocking' twist and the cast themselves look bored as well - even Henry, who plays an equally slimy character in Payback (1). Why go to the bother of casting a well-known martial artist in Park and then have him spend most of his time being behind a machine-gun? The film's frequent use of pyrotechnics is both over-the-top and unnecessary as it confuses the action scenes so you haven't got a clue what is happening.
The soundtrack is desperately hip, like a balding uncle appealing to youngsters that he's still cool. The film's ultimate ambition, of course, is to match The Matrix (2) with its slow-motion sequences and Liu being a punchier version of Carrie-Anne Moss. But it can't even get that right - instead of slowing down interesting action pieces, we have characters running through puddles and however you cut it, that isn't interesting. I personally felt like director Kaos (which is as apt a name as I can think of) was given the film's massive budget and just went nuts, blowing up everything on site and teasing the film's ludicrous plot in between. Nothing about the film convinces - Banderas should be able to do action films like this in his sleep as anyone watching Desperado (3) will testify. But he looks and sounds drunk and disinterested and if the lead actor can't get enthused then why on earth should !?
Should I watch it?
No, not under any circumstances. By all means, acquire the DVD - whatever you do, don't pay for it - but destroy the disc before it ruins anyone else's precious evenings. The film is a staggeringly pointless addition to the ever-growing list of action films, nearly all of which will manage to get something right like a decent performance here and there or entertaining action scenes or a kick-ass script. By contrast, Ballistic: Ecks Vs Sever gets nothing right - it is an entertainment dead zone.
Great For: unintentional comedy, ummm... what was the question again?
Not So Great For: action fans, the reputation of anyone involved with it, investing $70 million of a studio's money and hoping for a return
What else should I watch?
Grass growing, paint drying, clouds floating by, traffic...
Seriously, though, almost any other action film you can think of will be better than Ballistic: Ecks Vs Sever. Even films with a slight techno-thriller element... try movies like Source Code (4) that have an intelligence behind them or Terminator 2: Judgment Day (5) for mind-blowing effects and quality action scenes. The original RoboCop (6) provides elements of subversive social commentary alongside the bloody shootouts while I, Robot (7) sees technophobic cop Will Smith face off against a murderous mechanical man.
Banderas will always be the Mariachi in my eyes, preferably in the brilliantly low-budget Desperado which easily shows this film up. Liu, on the other hand, has had far more success in television than she has in movies but there will always be those who remember her chilling portrayal of Yakuza boss O-Ren Ishii in Quentin Tarantino's violent epic Kill Bill (8). She's certainly better in that than she was in either of those Charlie's Angels (9) flicks...
© 2016 Benjamin Cox