Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever

(Kaos, USA, 2002)


There is really only one test of quality for a certain kind of contemporary, American action movie heavily influenced by Hong Kong cinema: how gracefully and dexterously can the hero spin around mid-battle, discarding and reloading guns, or producing extravagant weapons from seemingly bottomless pockets? And does their leather coat fly up in the wind (in slow motion, of course) just so?

Judged on this criterion, the oddly titled Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever can match The Matrix (1999) or The Replacement Killers (1998). With a nice twist: it’s not Keanu Reeves or Chow Yun-Fat strutting their stuff, but Lucy Liu as Sever, a "rogue NASA agent".

By contrast, Ecks (Antonio Banderas) is a rather slow moving, melancholic FBI agent. He spends more time drinking in bars and remembering his lost love than whipping out his gun. His life has been derailed by the evil Gant (Gregg Henry). But the mysterious Sever also has issues with Gant, so Ecks soon comes to suspect he may have an ally in her, on the other side of the law.

Ballistic is a film that has been dismissed by most critics overseas. They have failed to see not only what is efficient about it in generic terms but also what is novel. Writer Alan McElroy and director Kaos (short for Wych Kaosayananda) construct the story around a theme of destroyed families – another mark of its debt to the Hong Kong model.

For Ecks, there is a hidden fact to be learned about his family ties. For Sever, the problem is upfront: she has faced the terrible truth that patriarchy simply will not allow her to mix motherhood and a career as an action-hero. Her revenge against the system for this privation is rather wonderful to watch.

There is also a deadly micro-device at the centre of this plot – a scary implant reminiscent of medical horror movies like Coma (1978). It sits inside an innocent child, waiting to be detonated. Here again, family melodrama and ass-kicking action are ingeniously combined. Ballistic is no masterpiece, but on its own terms it is captivating and pleasurable.

© Adrian Martin March 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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