First of all, this film takes place in Vancouver. Now, a lot of films shoot in Canada and have it double as another more expensive location. For instance, when, despite snow capped mountains in the background, Canada largely doubled for New York City in Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002) filmed and uses Vancouver as its setting, which is odd. I mean, is Canada the first place people think of when it comes to tense action, overblown violence, billowing explosions, random soldiers running around in the streets, and copious amounts of gunfire? Anyway...
Our bad guy is a man named Gant, a double dealing DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) agent, who has stolen a secret piece of biological warfare called "Softkill", which is sort of like a nano technology Frogger that swims in your bloodstream and injects you with heart stopping poison (seems a little too extravagant just to poison someone, huh?). His "son" is abducted by a mysterious agent named Sever (Lucy Liu). The government lures sad sack widower agent Jeremiah Ecks (Antonio Banderas) back into action to see what Gant is up to and what Severs motives are. Explosion. Explosion. Gunfire. Gunfire. A kick or two. It ends up that both Ecks and Sever have ties to Gant and they share the pain of having lost loved ones due to their dangerous careers and Gants meddling. But, Ecks wife just might not be dead, and Gant's son not only has the nano technology in his blood but isn't really Gant's son after all. By the end it is an all out grudge match between Ecks, Sever, and Gant's army of soldiers. Oh well, nothing about a hundred explosions cant solve.
Now I have seen some truly horrible movies. I have seen films with far worse acting and films hampered by significantly lower budgets and technical blundering. I have also seen films with even more anemic writing. Even in a terrible film there is usually something I can pick out that I like, whether it be a earnest actor, a directorial flourish, or an ineptitude that is at least funny or endearing. But what really irks me about Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is its complete lack of originality. It is like someone took a hack course in "Action Screenwriting 101" and found the most empty uncreative producers to make the film. It is passionless mess, cliched plotting, overloaded with trite, calculated action, little continuity or coherence, and not one single molecule of originality.
I cannot even begin to write the ways in which the film is uninspired and nonsensical. It would take too long. They should show this film to students and have them spend a semester dissecting how, aside from the slick looking production, the film stumbles on every other level... Oh, the cliched, incomprehensible tripe- Grizzled, broken hearted ex-agent lured back into the biz. Action chick, silent vessel of killing prowess. Seedy Aryan bad guy who spouts lines like "In more noble times when a knight failed his king, he fell on his sword.", before handing a gun to his bumbling henchman. Gigantic shoot-out in which Sever takes on an army of cops and squat geared agents, then sticks around, observing the aftermath from a crowd, yet she is only seen by Ecks who chases her alone? Convenient warehouse hideout and railway yard explosions a-plenty finale. One moment Sever rides past a bus on the interstate, seconds later she has appears on an overpass and makes the bus go ka-blooey... Ballistic is the thinnest of predictable plots and generic action with too much slow motion, fireballs, bad martial arts choreography, and general dull stylistic mayhem.
I can remember seeing John Woo's The Killer around 1990 or 91', and despite not being a big gunplay action guy, I absolutely loved the exaggerated style. I started showing the film to all of my (male) friends, and the majority of them laughed at it. Well, three or four years later Woo was courted by Hollywood and Tarantino ran around proclaiming the glory of Woo. Suddenly these same friends were renting Hard Boiled and A Better Tomorrow and talking about how great John Woo was. I mention this not to pat myself on the back, but to express the strangeness of how things turn out. I would never have imagined the influx of Asian talent and the embracing of their style by mainstream Hollywood. I also didn't see how quickly it would become a tired thing, which brings me to a man who calls himself Kaos. Ballistic director Wych "Kaos" Kaosayanada is the latest import, plucked from Thailand after his first film Fah was the countries biggest native hit. He is proof that the importing of Asian directors needs to be a tad more selective, or at the least don't pick a guy until he's got more than one film behind him. Actually, come to think of it, nix that. It doesn't really matter because nearly every Asian talent that has made features for Hollywood, from John Woo, to Ringo Lam, to Tsui Hark, to Ronny Yu, has seen their careers spiral downward and their talents behind the camera severely diluted.
The DVD: Warner Home Video
Picture: Widescreen. Anamorphic. The film looks pretty good. Print is clean and free of any spots or scratches. Fleshtones were a bit muted and washed out, and the grain could be better in a few scenes. Contrast is deep, sharpness and color overall are in great shape. No noticeable technical defects like pixelation or edge enhancement.
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 English or French audio tracks with optional English, French, or Spanish subtitles. Sound is crystal clear and crisp. Nice enough action/techno mix.
Extras: 26 Chapters--- Trailer--- "Know Your Enemy" game, which was a pretty lame.--- Behind the Scenes Documentary (13:00) Standard studio doc, featuring lots of behind the scenes filming and interviews with the cast and crew. Liu mentions how a simple scene of her jumping off a railway car ended up having a huge pyrotechnic explosion behind her that she wasn't told about, and she laughs about it. Yeah, tell Vic Morrow all about how funny it is being underprepared an ill informed about stunts.
Conclusion:Well, there is nothing wrong with the DVD; technically it is a fine transfer. But, this is without a doubt one of the worst films I have seen, detestable in its hackneyed story and dull action mayhem. Ballistic lacks any sense of spontaneity; it is action without fun, action without tension, action devoid of energy. You are far better off watching a modern action film like The Killer, La Femme Nikita, Time and Tide or Shiri which at least attempt some emotional undercurrent and fresh interesting characters as well as stylistic action.