THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Just a few weeks ago, I commented to a friend that Swimfan was the worst movie title of the year. Now that honor has to be surrendered to the awkwardly monikered Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. To begin with, that subtitle is unnecessary. Secondly, it's inaccurate. The characters it refers to - Agent Jeremiah Ecks (Antonio Banderas) and Agent Sever (Lucy Liu) - are only opponents for the first half of the film; during the second half, they become allies. So shouldn't the subtitle be Ecks and Sever?

Maybe you are not thinking about this question. Maybe you are wondering why I'm spending so much time obsessing about the title instead of writing about the movie itself. The answer is simple: the title - insipid as it is - is more interesting than anything that actually appears on screen.

Lucy Liu and Antonio Banderas get a stranglehold on each other in the clumsy Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever
If you can make any sense of this plot, then you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. With some help from the official production notes, I'll do my best to translate it for you. There's a bad guy named Robert Gant (Gregg Henry) who has control of a top-secret assassination device that can be injected into someone's bloodstream, thus causing them to have a heart attack, stroke, or other fatal malady. A deadly secret agent named Sever has taken Gant's son, much to the dismay of his wife Rayne (Talisa Soto). She doesn't know her husband has injected this thing into the boy as a way to smuggle it across the border to Canada. (Don't ask me, I don't get it either.) Meanwhile, the government brings in former agent Ecks, who became an alcoholic after the death of his wife. Ecks is told that his wife's death was faked; she is actually alive and the mysterious agent Sever can tell him where she is. The mission is to find her in order to get some answers. I have left out a crucial connection between two of the characters, just in case anyone goes to this movie and doesn't see it coming a mile away. It is safe to say that once Ecks finds Sever, they become partners in a fight against the evil Gant.

Not that anyone is likely to care. Even though I was there for every single frame of Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, I kept having the strange sensation that I had entered the movie part-way through. That's because the entire backstory has been eliminated. The characters of Ecks and Sever are never established. Who are they? What happened to them (other than the very surface things the story haphazardly throws in front of us)? For that matter, who is Gant and where did he get that device? What does he intend to do with it? Certain other characters have connections to one another that make no sense, like the one between Gant's right-hand man, A.J. Ross (Ray Park), and Ecks's supervisor, Julio Martin (Miguel Sandoval).

As for the action, about the best I can say is that it's clumsily staged. Half the time, I couldn't even tell what was going on. Lots of things in this movie blow up real good, but it isn't always clear who's blowing them up or why they're blowing up. Ballistic is also the kind of inept action flick that defies logic, as in the scene where Sever helps Ecks escape capture by firing a rocket launcher at a bus he is riding in. Somehow she just knows that he'll survive the explosion while all of his captors will be killed. The scene continues on to an even more ridiculous extreme, but I am reasonably sure I lack the words to describe it. (Or maybe I just don't want to go there. Take your pick.)

My suspicion is that the people who made this movie thought they were making the next big ultra-cool new-wave action spectacular like The Matrix. There's even a moment when Sever whips aside the tails of her black trench coat and pulls out the weapons attached to her hips, just like Keanu Reeves did. In this case though, the violence and action is all hyped up with nowhere to go. It's style and no substance...and pretty unimpressive style at that.

So yes, the title Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is truly awful, but at least it has an amusingly awful appeal, unlike the picture itself. If you think the title of this movie is weird, consider this credit: "Directed by Kaos" (the director's full name is Wych Kaosayananda). How appropriate for one of the most chaotic and frustrating films in recent memory.

( out of four)

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is rated R for strong violence. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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