"Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever," an action flop from September 2002, would have been completely forgotten by now were it not for one distinction: its perfect 0% score at Rotten Tomatoes. More than 100 reviews are logged, not a single one of them positive. That's rare. Even the worst Martin Lawrence comedies usually find SOME sucker to stick up for them.
Of course, Rotten Tomatoes is not an exhaustive repository of reviews. It is meant to include only the best and brightest critics (plus the ones who got in years ago and are embarrassing now but are still included due to inertia). I was a movie critic for a newspaper in 2002, on vacation when "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" was released. The editor of the features section, a remarkably intelligent and well-educated woman named Jean Carey who had studied film (and art, and literature, and philosophy, and so on) much more than I had, filled in for me and wrote what may be the world's only positive review of "Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever." She gave it an A.
I'm not sure what she was thinking. Understanding Jean's thought process was not one of my strong suits. I'm pretty sure there was some irony involved, some "so bad it's good" mentality. But she also said that "Ecks and Sever, and Banderas and Liu, seem to have some actual chemistry," which cannot be the opinion of a sane person who watched the movie.
Anyway. We're not here to talk about the film opinions of a former newspaper editor of mine. My own review — which I wrote for eFilmCritic.com — was as negative as the rest of them:
What I said then: "Even by dumb action-movie standards, 'Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever' is a dumb action movie. It is yet another film whose director believes using slow-motion is enough to create excitement, and that fighting is the same thing as advancing the plot.... There is no acting in the movie. All the participants merely behave really seriously and say their silly dialogue with straight faces. And a lot of things get blown up.... It looks more like a standard episode of some USA Network series that is light on brain and heavy on immature enthusiasm for mayhem. It has no flash or style or wit. It may not be the worst movie of the year, but it is almost certainly one of the most pointless." Grade: D- [Here's the whole review.]
But now, 10 years later, seeing that 0% at Rotten Tomatoes, I got to thinking. Can it be that NO ONE (apart from my former editor) had anything good to say about "Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever"? Come on! Surely another viewing will yield something positive, if I really put my mind to it. I saw it as a challenge, like when there's a kid at school with no friends and your mom tells you go out of your way to be nice to him. You can do it if you try!
The re-viewing: According to the opening credits, the film was directed by "Kaos" — not the league of villains from "Get Smart," as it turns out, but a Thai filmmaker whose name is Wych Kaosayananda. So Kaos is not only an apt moniker for a person responsible for a movie like "Ecks vs Sever," it's also a legitimate short version of his real name. Clever! I like it.
See? We're off to a great start!
During one of the film's 845 senseless action scenes, there's a moment when a bad guy falls from a high rooftop onto a parked car. The camera follows him down, giving us the perspective of someone jumping off the roof after him. It's a cool shot. If Kaos ever makes another movie (note: this will not happen), I will look for craftiness like this.
Aaaand... that's it. I got nothin' else.
The peculiar thing about this generic espionage caper is that it makes almost no effort NOT to be generic. Ecks and Sever are ex-spies, or rogue spies, or former FBI, or something, and they do all the usual things that people matching that description tend to do: shooting, yelling, punching, driving fast, being in a hail of bullets yet not getting hit, etc. The only mildly creative touch, plot-wise, is that the villain has stolen a piece of nanotechnology that lets you kill somebody via remote control. But I'm pretty sure the new iPhones can do that.
Ecks left the business years ago because his wife got killed, but gets pulled back in with the news that she's not dead after all, and that his former boss will tell him where she is if he does this one job for them. Kind of a jackass move on his boss' part — "Your wife is alive! Do me a favor and I'll tell you about it!" — but whatever. It turns out Ecks and his wife each thought the other was dead, and Mrs. Ecks married the villain, Robert Gant, and had a child with him, who is actually Ecks' child, because she was pregnant when she and Ecks both got not-killed.
That child, now seven years old, has the tiny robot assassins in his bloodstream at the moment because Gant injected him with them as a means of smuggling them out of Germany. Two things about this. One, you can always count on Germany to be at the forefront of finding new ways to murder people. And two, you have to hand it to Gant: injecting something into your kid's blood is a pretty ingenious way to sneak it across the border.
Maybe that's another positive thing I found about the movie? Sure, we'll count it.
There's nothing else, though. Even the title is terrible. The "Ballistic" part has no relevance. It's just a random cool-sounding word. Other words that would have worked just as well include "Torque," "Mayhem," "Fuselage," "Gunpowder," and "Bitchslap." "Ecks vs. Sever" is inaccurate — Ecks and Sever are on the same side — and those names are stupid besides. To summarize: the title is only four words long, and every single one of those words is wrong.
Lucy Liu, who plays Sever, gets into a lot of fights. Near the end, she and her opponent throw down their guns and have a good old-fashioned knife- and fist-fight like our pioneer forefathers would have done. The guy she fights is Ray Park, perhaps best known as Darth Maul. Say what you will about "The Phantom Menace," everybody liked the scenes with Darth Maul. People enjoy watching Ray Park fight with other people.
That's four. I found four positive things to say about "Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever." Let's see if I can pad the list out to 10.
- It's in color.
- The principal cast members are physically attractive and pleasant to look at.
- The language spoken by the characters is the same language I speak, which greatly aids in my comprehension of the story.
- It takes place in Vancouver, B.C., a lovely city with clean streets and a thriving underground jazz scene. Many films are shot in Vancouver but take place elsewhere, but this one is actually set there. Good for you, Vancouver!
- None of the people who suffered violent deaths in the movie actually suffered those deaths in real life. It's all pretend and make-believe.
- You can watch it with the sound off and it still makes as much sense.
Do I still hate this movie? Yes. Yes I do. Turns out everybody was right the first time. Except for my editor. Jean, wherever you are, I hope you still have your happy memories of "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever," and of the time we conned the managing editor into sending us to Sundance even though it was too expensive and didn't matter to our readers. Ah, memories. Grade: D-