May 9, 2017
Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002): a recap (part 1 of 6)
It was recently argued that nobody would read a detailed recap of a movie when they could just as easily pull it up on streaming and watch it themselves. To that, I say, “Challenge accepted!” What if the movie were so bad, so hated, so universally reviled that no sane person would ever sit through a second of it?
And then it came to me: Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, available now from Amazon for thirty-two cents. Not only did this film earn back only $20 million total of its $70 million budget, not only was it the 126th highest grossing film of 2002, not only does it have a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, not only is its 116 reviews the most for any movie with 0% (earning it a claim to the title of Worst Movie Ever Made), but—and this is the important thing—this is the movie that ended my six month relationship with a girl who, prior to this mess, I thought I was going to marry.
I’m happily married now with two boys, so everything did eventually work out.
My story goes: Girl wanted to see this movie; I didn’t; lots of yelling; something something something; long story short, I never saw the movie or that girl again.
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So now, fifteen years later, I am ready to watch Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever with you. Am I atoning for the past? Am I trying to prove a point? I don’t know. I do know that my first problem with this movie has already cropped up and I haven’t even watched it yet.
What is this title about? Why would you name a standalone movie as though it were the fifth one in the series? It’s as if we’ve seen Ecks, we’ve seen Sever, we’ve seen an attempted reboot with Jeremy Renner, and now it’s time for the head-to-head match-up we’ve been waiting for.
And how did they land on the word “ballistic”? Exactly none of its definitions have one damn thing to do with the movie. Nothing gets shot in such a way that the Earth’s gravity determines its flight. The study of projectiles like bullets is called ‘ballistics“, with an s. Even the concept of being super, explosively angry doesn’t fit, because both Ecks and Sever remain so calm one frequently fears they’ve fallen asleep. (Sample sentence: “When I said I didn’t want to see this movie, my girlfriend went ballistic, and long story short, I had to carry four pairs of underwear and two shirts in my hands on the R train.”)
Oh for the love of all that is good about Anne Hathaway, I just realized that I’m going to have to watch this movie.
In fact, enjoy Anne Hathaway for a minute. There won’t be much joy from Ecks, Sever, or anything else that’s about to happen.
And we open with the Warner Brothers logo. That can’t be bad. They produced Casablanca and that was only 74 years ago. Wait a minute, the next logo is for something called Franchise Pictures. Oh, this isn’t any good. They made 3000 Miles to Graceland. Their production of Battlefield Earth was so bad that Franchise and its founder Elle Samaha were found liable for defrauding investors of $121 million. Franchise declared bankruptcy and disbanded shortly thereafter, which is probably best for everybody.
And now the credits start in earnest and they’re at least as good as anything produced in 1987. They look like a cross between the credits for Lethal Weapon and the TV show Airwolf. The credits come flying in from the side of the screen in a font I can only describe as “What the hell year is this?”
We start with some skyline porn of what I assumed was LA but turns out to be Vancouver. The whole movie is set in Vancouver. Now, British Columbia has stood in for a lot of cities—Seattle, Chicago, LA, New York—but this may be the first time ever that it’s actually stood in for itself. It’s an interesting setting, considering the fact that the movie is vaguely about a war between US spy agencies.
The Learjet from the credits lands and taxis for a bit. A really good looking woman smiles as a young boy holding hands with an older man get off the plane. I wonder what this is about. Huh, back to skyline and credits. That’s an interesting choice. Now the woman is driving a car and the boy is in the back. The older man was just a flight attendant, I guess?
The woman is Talisa Soto who was a model for a number of years and has done almost no acting since this film. According to Wikipedia, she’s married to Benjamin Bratt and they have two kids. So, at least we know she’s been using her time productively.
The car pulls into the driveway of a really, really nice house, but immediately behind them is a black SUV and another car. A man comes to her window and shows her an ID from the DIA. That’s a real thing, by the way. The Defense Intelligence Agency provides intelligence support to the Pentagon and military in the field. There are 16,500 DIA employees and their mission is so secret they have a webpage. Don’t see what you need on their webpage? That’s okay. You can call them at their totally listed telephone number.
The question that I can’t answer for you is what they’re doing in Vancouver, which has not been a part of the US since at least 1970 and possibly going back to forever. Mrs. Benjamin Bratt, now identified as Mrs. Gant, is told that her husband wants to see their son. She complains that the child just came back from several days in Europe after her husband, Robert, sent for him.
As she gets on a cell phone and argues with her husband that “this wasn’t our agreement,” the flunky… um… opens the back door and just takes the boy. He just takes him. The kid shouts, “Bye, mommy,” and gets carried off with no luggage or anything.
“Hey,” you ask, “Is this legal?” Nope. She’d have every right to call the police and report that her son was kidnapped. Without an order of custody, the father himself could carry the child away, but not some employee of his. Also, I’m pretty sure that the head of the DIA might frown on staff getting in the middle of a custody battle.
More skyline porn. Has the movie not started?
The SUV and a lead car are driving and then a parked car next to them explodes. This completely obliterates the lead car and officially starts the movie’s fatality count.
Agent Kidnapper grabs the boy and holds him in his arms which is, I guess, infinitely safer than keeping him belted in the back seat for some reason. They try to take evasive action but a garbage truck hurls itself up the street and T-bones another parked car. This effectively cuts off any escape they might have had forwards (on fire) or backwards (garbage truck and wrecked car).
I realize the movie has barely begun, but two completely innocent civilian cars have now been destroyed in the name of the plot. The first one was parked. How did the saboteur know it would still be there when the DIA guys drove by? Did he (or she) just wire every car on the street? Will he or she have to go back later to disarm the bombs before rush hour?
And why did the garbage truck have to smash anything? It’s a garbage truck. It’s more than big enough to block a roadway by itself. And how long should it take the City of Vancouver Police to respond to an explosion and a garbage truck crash? Because they never come, just never.
Agent Child Abductor and his partner get out of the car with the boy. I don’t know how this is safer than staying in the car. They draw their guns and point them randomly at smoke. A couple of them open fire on the unnecessarily thick smoke with, let’s pretend, at least a vague hope that they don’t murder a pedestrian. At one point the agent watching the kid just leaves him to run around in what now is chokingly dense smoke, telling the seven-year old to “be brave.” For what it’s worth, the kid is as nonchalant about this as he was when he was ripped from his mother. He’s just very zen about his situation.
The hooded figure from the garbage truck hops out and Winter Soldiers the hell out of the bad [?] guys with flying kicks and cool karate stuff. Soon all the men are down and the little boy is left alone to confront our stranger. It’s a tense moment unless somehow you read the credits. Then it’s just the moment where the movie’s lead takes off
his her hood.
The interloper John Woos through the smoke and fog as the small child watches. She takes off her stylish hood and… OMG! It’s Lucy Liu!
Hey, you know what Lucy Liu was great in? Those episodes of ER where she was a Chinese mother who accidentally ODed her son because she was given two prescriptions for the same medicine.
And I mean she was great in ER and absolutely nothing else. Yes, she was in Kill Bill. Yes, she’s done five seasons as Dr. Watson on that Sherlock Holmes show that isn’t that other Sherlock Holmes show. I didn’t say she couldn’t get work. I said she’s terrible at it.
Thankfully, this movie doesn’t actually ask much from her. We’ve seen four times as much of her stunt double than we’ve seen of Liu, and she has yet to say a word. Stuntwoman Ming Qiu doubled for Liu in Charlie’s Angels, and has also doubled for Maggie Q and Ming-Na Wen.
So Liu approaches the child. End scene. Does she take the boy? Kill him? Tell him about that time she met Craig T. Nelson? I don’t know and the director doesn’t bother to tell us.
And, with the introduction of the Winter Sever and no sign at all of Ecks, we end part 1. What’s happening? Why? How is that kid so calm? None of that will be answered in any way in part 2 of this recap, coming soon!