I was completely out of the loop when it came to Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, a film predominantly known at this point as the worst reviewed movie of the last decade by RottenTomatoes standards. So, when I decided I would follow in the footsteps of my previous look at Skyline and regularly take a look back at movies considered to be among the worst ever that I had not yet seen, there was no better place to start.
In short, yes, this is a bad film. Terrible in fact. Is it the worst? That's all relative to the discussion. Worst in what way? Plot? Characters? Execution? Entertainment? In all honesty, this is a film I would consider a perfect entry in a new age of grindhouse. All I could think of while watching the inexplicable amount of explosions, lack of story and silly predicaments was of Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror and how he parodied films that left no object intact and a scene wasn't over until everything was charred and destroyed. The difference, of course, is that Planet Terror still had a story... Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever has a story, but I'll be damned if it's ever fully explained or even understood by director Wych Kaosayananda and screenwriter Alan B. McElroy (Wrong Turn).
Let's look at it a little closer...
It seems somewhat coincidental the first installment in my "I Finally Watched" series was Skyline with which brothers Greg and Colin Strause decided to direct under the name Brothers Strause. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever features yet another director unwilling to go by his given name in the credits. While Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is presented as "A Wych Kaosayananda Film" the end of the credits sequence simply says "Directed by Kaos" which can't be a good sign unless we're referencing a talking fox in an abstract Lars von Trier film.
Anyway, Kaos has directed two films in his illustrious career. The first was a 1998 Thai film called Fah. Unfortunately I can't find a trailer or even an image from this film though Wikipedia says that "at the time [it] was the highest-budgeted film in the history of the Thai film industry but failed in the Thai box office." Nevertheless, this son of a famous Thai diplomat went on to direct Ballistic for Warner Bros. with a reported budget of $70 million... It would go on to make $19.9 million worldwide and Kaos would most certainly not reign.
Where do you begin when it comes to the plot? The official synopsis? Let's have a look at that shall we...
This is a story of two spies, who are lifelong adversaries, engaged in a cat-and-mouse hunt. Jonathan Ecks (Antonio Banderas) is an FBI agent hunting the other, Sever (Lucy Liu) a rogue NSA agent. What they learn, however, while trying to kill each other... is that they might be on the same side, and faced with a threat greater to each other than themselves.
If you've seen this film you already know that plot synopsis is a lie. You also know the title of the film is a lie. The reason it's a lie, though, is because to piece this film together into a short description without giving away how stupid and incomprehensible it is would be utterly impossible. Here, have a look, and I'm sorry, but there is no way to avoid spoilers in this case...
Lucy Liu plays Sever, a former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) agent and she has kidnapped the son of Robert Gant (Gregg Henry). Why? Well, because of a little thing called nano-technology. That and the fact she got pregnant and that wasn't good for... uh, well, that doesn't really matter until after Sever has killed only God knows how many people, escapes and her and Ecks rendezvous on some freighter... but I'm getting ahead of myself...
Gant is the DIA director and he is under investigation by the FBI for the possible theft of a piece of nanotechnology that could kill someone and be "totally undetectable". At least, so says Julio Martin (Miguel Sandoval) an FBI boss in charge of bringing Gant in. The piece of technology was stolen by AJ Ross (Ray Park), a man Julio says is nicknamed "The Prince of Darkness" (which is hilarious because it's stupid and because it's never mentioned again). This is where the whole detection capabilities of this piece of technology comes into play. After stealing the device Julio says they performed a "thermal scan" on Ross and his men at an airport in Germany and they couldn't find the "undetectable device". Which would makes sense, since he already said it was undetectable.
Unfortunately, the same device is later detected in the body of Gant's son, Michael, by Sever after she kidnaps him. Those damned undetectable devices, they're so detectable.
Anywho, Martin decides to bring in Jonathan Ecks (Antonio Banderas), a former FBI agent, to help them with the case. Why a former agent? Why Ecks? Well, there's reason for that but when Julio tells Ecks he will be looking for Robert Gant he doesn't show him a picture of the guy. Instead he says, "A shadow government in the name of national security is still a shadow government." WHAT!?!?!? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN JULIO?!?!
See, had Julio shown Ecks a picture of Gant, you know, the director of an actual U.S. Agency -- Lieutenant General Ronald L. Burgess, Jr. is the current director, here's a picture and a bio -- he would have recognized him as the man that tried to have him killed, faked his own death and is now married to Ecks's wife, whom he thought died in a car-bomb double-cross. What the what?!?
Of course, that revelation is saved for later as the FBI and DIA wage war in the streets of... nope, not New York. Nope, not Los Angeles. If you guessed Vancouver, Canada you'd be right! Yes, American agencies are laying waste to Canadian shopping malls where Sever decides to do a little afternoon shopping. I guess because she wanted a Hot Dog On a Stick.
However, it is after this international disaster that Ecks and Sever have their first face-to-face and Ecks reveals he's looking for his wife and after about 50 minutes Ecks finds what he's looking for... and she is indeed alive! So when the plot says Ecks and Sever are "lifelong adversaries" that's not true, unless there are FBI vs. DIA death matches I don't know of. So adding the subtitle "Ecks vs. Sever" makes no sense. Ballistic really makes no sense either, but it's serviceable.
It should have been called Baby Mama Still Alive or America Wages War on Canadian Shopping Malls. At least those titles give a heads up to an audience member as to the insanity that will soon unfold.
I can't say I really blame the actors for deciding to star in this film. Liu and Banderas obviously saw it as a payday, but it is interesting to note where their careers went from here.
Banderas has obviously fared the best, especially as of late with a role in Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In, Steven Soderbergh's Haywire and Black Gold for Jean-Jacques Annaud on top of offering his voice to Puss in Boots for the Shrek franchise as well as the feline's own upcoming spin-off. What may be a bit more embarrassing is the money grab as he supplies the voice for the animated bee in those Nasonex commercials.
Lucy Liu's career isn't as impressive as he last notable film role in a live-action feature was Kill Bill: Vol. 1, since then she's served as the voice in the Kung Fu Panda and Tinker Bell animated franchises as well as a few other animated features. I guess it's never a good sign when your character is named in a film's title and after 38 minutes all you've said is, "Run", "You kill me, you kill Gant's son" and "Let me see your hand."
Ray Park is probably best known as Darth Maul in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace had a nine-episode run on "Heroes", played Snake Eyes in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and will be returning for G.I. Joe 2.
Otherwise, Miguel Sandoval and Gregg Henry, are pretty much saved for television work.
The legacy of Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever seems to have delivered two well-reviewed Game Boy Advance video games and a film everyone considers one of the worst films of all-time.
Among some of the notable lowlights, the reverse-engineered gun I montaged above was hilarious and the "Ahh, ahahh ahh ah ah... Ooh ah ahhh, uh ahaaaa uh ahhhh" score by Don Davis (The Matrix trilogy) was increasingly grating... give the main titles a listen to the right if you dare.
The action was ridiculous and the dual car flip over Ecks after he falls off his bike had to have been intentionally stupid.
Considering this film has been out for nine years I'm happy I can finally say I've seen it and can reference it on occasion, but at this point even that seems like it would be just as needless as the film itself.
I want to make this a regular column where I sit down and dissect some of the worst films in history, and I want you to be a part of it. So, I am taking suggestions... what film should I watch next?
The only stipulation is that I am going to make sure it's a film I have not seen and I am going to begin putting together a list of widely considered terrible movies and noting the ones I've yet to submit myself to... So, since that list isn't yet put together here are a few I thought of off the top of my head that I have not yet seen:
- Alone in the Dark (2005)
- Babylon A.D. (2008)
- Battlefield Earth (2000)
- Boat Trip (2003)
- Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
- Daddy Day Camp (2007)
- Delta Farce (2007)
- Down to You (2000)
- Fear Dot Com (2002)
- Glitter (2001)
- King's Ransom (2005)
- Miss March (2009)
- My Baby's Daddy (2004)
- Redline (2007)
- Rollerball (2002)
- Son of the Mask (2005)
- Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)
- Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004)
- Swept Away (2002)
- The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002)
- The Hottie & the Nottie (2008)
- Witless Protection (2008)
Your suggestions don't have to be from that list, but I thought it would help... Now, do you have any thoughts on Ballistic and what should I decide to torture myself with next?