May 9, 2017
Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002): a recap (part 2 of 6)
Previously on Ballistic: Ecks v. Sever: Lucy Liu destroyed some innocent cars and I destroyed a serious relationship.
Since Lucy Liu just… saved? …re-kidnapped? …your-guess-here? …a six year-old boy, I would expect the movie to tell us more about that. I would be wrong.
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The very next thing we see is a barstool, soaking wet, with a soaking wet Antonio Banderas on it. He’s cool, so he’s got an entire bottle of scotch, a cigarette, and an unexplained head wound. It’s basically the same way Antonio Banderas shows up anywhere.
Some government guys come in and ask if he’s Jeremiah Ecks. And let’s take a moment to unpack that. Banderas is Spanish, almost painfully so. That means that his name would be yer-eh-MEE-ah. Being almost unpronounceable in Spanish, it is not at all a popular name. It’s not even in the top 100. Ecks isn’t very popular, either. Almost no Spanish speakers bear that last name, which came from Germany to the US after the war. In fact, there are only 598 people on Earth with that last name. How did a Spaniard get a German name? Was it a Boys from Brazil–type deal? I’m sure it would be fascinating if it were ever addressed.
The government guys show Banderas their FBI credentials. He refuses to look at them, at the agents, or anything other than his cigarette. Ecks won’t go with the agents, so they try to force him. And Banderas beats the hell out of them, smashing them into the bar and nearly tearing a guy’s head off. The bartender doesn’t notice because reasons.
Presently, some chief FBI guy wanders in. Cut to both of them smoking and drinking whiskey right from the bottle. I hate to harp on such a small thing, but this movie was made in 2002. Surely by that point we’d retired the cliché that “smoking is cool“.
We now get whatever exposition the movie can spare us, which isn’t much. The total number of spoken words in this movie is about 2,800. A real movie script has between 7,500 and 20,000.
The FBI chief has a tape that show’s that Vinn’s alive. Vinn is apparently Ecks’ dead wife. But he didn’t see her die, he saw an explosion; he didn’t go to her funeral, he saw an empty casket; he didn’t sign on for this film, he thought they were taking him to the park. If Ecks helps with this job, they’ll tell him what they know about his wife. The head FBI guy literally says, “I’ve got a situation and you’re my only option.”
Is that true? Out of the entire FBI, they can’t find one person with the skill set to match a soaking wet drunk with a nicotine addiction? It all seems so contrived. Banderas, for his part, walks out and refuses the call to action. As he’s walking, he flashes back to the explosion that supposedly killed his wife. And the car is hilariously old. The explosion supposedly took place in 1995, but the car is at least twenty years older than that.
In fact, all the cars that get ruined in this movie are decades older than you’d expect. The movie appears to have been made in the 1980s. Blowing up junkers makes the movie look like it was shot in Thailand on a budget of $37.50 and four cherry bombs.
There’s a reason for this. The director, Wych Kaosayananda, was from Thailand. His first movie, Fah, was just people shooting each other on a budget of half a million dollars. Imagine what he could do with $70 million! He could direct the same movie again and I’m not sure what happened to the other $69.5 million! Kaos (as he called himself) relied on practical effects and real stunts that gave the movie a look that can only be described as “really, really old.” Following this movie, he fled back to Thailand to eat curry out of coconuts or whatever they do there.
Next, we see Sever in her secret lair, which is made mostly out of chicken wire, bakers racks, various scientific equipment, and lots of blue light. The little boy is in a cage with a nice bed and comforter which, despite the bedding, is still a 5×3′ cage without a toilet. He’s not freaked out, though. He seems pretty relaxed about it.
Now we’re on a bridge in a park late at night to meet the bad guy. We know he’s bad because he’s wearing a trenchcoat and a fedora. We also know he’s bad because he’s played by Gregg Henry. He’s totally a “hey, it’s that guy” actor, playing vaguely evil people in positions of power nonstop for the last forty years.
Henry’s pretty mad at the guy who let his son get taken. He forces him to take out his gun, put it against his head, and fire. At the last second, Agent Take-Somebody-Else’s-Kid-to-Work-Day tries to fire at Gregg Henry (Mr. Gant). Somebody from somewhere snipes him and he falls dead before he can hurt our main bad guy. So now, in a public park in Vancouver, there’s a dead body of a DIA agent who’s in the country illegally. That should interest the po… oh, they never get wind of this or respond in any way? Sure. Why not?
Gant, having killed his most trusted aid, turns to the next guy and tells him, “Get me Michael.” That’s the little boy, and he has only 28 hours to live for some reason. And I have to disagree with Gant’s management style. He’s just promoting incompetence. Eventually, he’ll kill all his henchmen and it’ll be him and the night janitor. Darth Vader was better at staff retention.
Also, the guy he’s talking to, Ross, played by Ray Park, looks like this:
If you’re thinking, “That guy looks like Toad from X-Men,” that’s because he was Toad from X-Men. It’s impossible to see him as anything else. That’s also partially because he was almost unrecognizable in his most famous role, Darth Maul. You heard right: Ray Park was Darth Maul.
A Learjet lands probably in Vancouver, coming from wherever Ecks was. The FBI conducts a briefing. Hold onto something, because this is all the plot we’re going to get:
This is Gant’s latest acquisition. Code Name “SoftKill.” He’s been trying to build a perfect assassin. But he’s never been able to lick the one thing that got in his way: The human factor. For Gant, emotions are a liability. A machine would solve that problem. He could give a head of state a heart attack or an aneurysm.
So Gant stole a nanobot that can be introduced into someone’s blood and then deliver poison or rip open a blood vessel or something. How does that eliminate the human factor? You still need someone to get close enough to jab a needle in the target knowing they’re murdering someone. He hasn’t solved any problem at all.
Also, the robot looks like a frog:
They have traffic camera footage of a woman beating the hell out of Gant’s men and taking a child. Good to know the Vancouver Police are at least peripherally involved.
Ecks guesses that the woman is “disaffected DIA” and probably “Orphan Class.” What is Orphan Class? They’re Chinese girls taken by the US Government and trained to be perfect assassins. So, I was wrong when I called Liu the Winter Soldier. She’s Black Widow. At least she’s not Hawkeye.
The FBI needs Ecks to find the mystery woman so they can find the child so they can find the nanobot. That’s our plot. It’s Ecks versus Sever for… the fate of the free world? Really? Don’t they both want the same thing: to keep the tech out of the hands of Gant? What are they fighting over? Top billing?
Plot out of the way, and Banderas getting top billing, we’re ready for our first big action scene.
EXT. DAY. BIG, OPEN AIR CAFE.
Lucy Liu slo-mos through crowds of innocent civilians while wearing cool sunglasses and a purple coat. The soundtrack is just somebody singing ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah over a Casio keyboard. I thought we were in an airport, which would make some level of sense, or a mall, which would make some lower level of sense. Instead, it’s the Vancouver Public Library bravely standing in for the Vancouver Public Library.
Dozens of DIA agents storm up steps and into position, all of them in balaclavas. The real explanation is they’re stuntmen and covering their faces is an easy way to use them over again. The in-universe explanation is that nobody in Vancouver gets at all nervous when they see this:
Sever just sits there while a dozen DIA agents surround her, with a bunch of snipers for good measure. They’re acting way outside of their jurisdiction and violating every treaty we’ve ever signed with Canada, but the Casio music has added Drumbeat #4 so that’s nice.
Oddly, the order is given not to “cancel” the asset, meaning not to kill her. I would have said, “Capture only, do not kill.” “Cancel” just seems to indicate that they want everybody to forget the mission, go home, and hang out with Evangeline Lilly and that fake baby.
Whatever. Liu Winter-Widows the hell out of everybody including some putz holding a gun to her back. Everybody starts running away and the bad guys agree to “Call in the local PD,” so they can use them for cover. Good to see a shooting at the library will attract some sort of police attention.
For people who don’t want to kill Lucy Liu, the DIA is sure shooting at her a whole lot. The police make their way up the street, and you know from the second you see them that they’re all doomed.
The police, naturally, line up with the DIA rather than, you know, do their jobs. Now everybody is shooting at Lucy Liu, and although she’s in the open, missing. Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether she’s trying to hit the officers. She’s certainly trying to kill the DIA guys.
And then the most amazing thing ever happens! Liu is face-to-face with a cowering civilian. This lets her say her first word in the entire script. It’s: “Run.” And it comes 21 minutes into the movie.
There’s a really good in-camera stunt where Liu kills a sniper and he falls in slow motion into a car.
I’m not sure how it was done, but it was done well.
Liu blows up a cop car with a grenade. Then she throws away her guns and takes out two batons. She dispatches five DIA agents with the batons for reasons not strongly grounded in reality. So now she’s Mockingbird. If her next line is, “I am Groot,” I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
Cops and DIA agents are all standing side-by-side, guns drawn. Lucy Liu just starts shooting indiscriminately. She definitely kills a bunch of people, but I think she’s trying to miss the cops. In any case, with this much lead, shrapnel, and destroyed Crown Victorias, the police are bound to get hurt.
Liu finds a BFG and unloads on two dozen fifteen-year-old car bodies. They obligingly explode for no reason related to science. She walks through the wreckage and more or less disappears.
So that was our first big action scene. Was it any good? No. Take Minority Report, released the same year as this. The action scene in the mall meant something. We knew why the characters were there and what was at stake. (And if you don’ t occasionally ask people, “Is this now?” you’re a dirty, filthy, liar.)
Back in the film, paramedics try to give people (and none of the cars) oxygen, Antonio Banderas Maltese Falcons his way around the scene.
Banderas’ boss, the FBI guy, gets up in Toad’s face and the two trade meaningless threats. Meanwhile, Antonio can tell something from the bullet patterns. Or maybe he’s just thinking about Mel and the kids. Banderas calls in to say that Sever will retaliate. He’s just got that kind of feeling.
As soon as he says that, Liu shoots FBI guy in the chest and runs away.
With his not-quite-dying words, FBI guy tells Banderas that Liu knows where his wife is. And with that, Banderas finally gains a reason to care about any of this.
Some quick reminders as we end part 2: Lucy Liu was at the library armed with every gun ever made. She didn’t look at any books. She window shopped and shot a bunch of people. The DIA, somehow, knew she’d be there, despite the fact that they don’t have a precog. Also, who’s watching the kid?
Stay tuned for part 3, where Ecks actually versus him some Sever, and we finally get the answer to, “Where is my wife?” And that answer will not be, “How the hell do I know who your wife is? I just met you.”
I’m gonna go look in on the boy because, really, somebody should.