Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever (2002)

One of a run of 2000s action disappointments, this bigscreen washout slid direct to rental DVD in the UK, suggesting that the high-octane style of recent decades is just about worn out. With a back-and-forth structure that might just evoke MAD's Spy vs Spy, this has a pile of plot devices to get ex-FBI agent Ecks (Antonio Banderas, stubble) and rogue 'DIA' agent Sever (Lucy Liu, leather) into a series of big set-piece fights.

Despite the title, the antagonists are only briefly set against each other, and a trick is missed by giving both similar backstories (lost or dead loved-ones) but not having any sexual attraction between them (Banderas's love interest is Talisa Soto) add perviness to their striding in fetish gear through huge explosions and flying bodies or indulging in many martial arts bouts. The plot motor is reliably rotten Gregg Henry, a DIA baddie who resorts to using his own son's body to smuggle a deadly mcguffin into the USA; Liu, out for revenge, kidnaps the boy – who will die in 36 hours if the thing isn't removed – and Henry is out the get the kid (who actually turns out to be Ecks's son) not to save him but so he can get hold of the device (something to do with creating untraceable assassinations). Banderas is brought in by his ethnic FBI boss (Miguel Sandoval) and everyone's backstory comes out. Liu is motivated by a dead child, but more interesting is her unexplored status as an 'orphan' – a Chinese girl baby sold off by a family who wanted a son and raised as a killer by US intelligence.

Director Kaos (aka Wych Kaosayananda), a Thai import, does well by soulless stunt stuff, blasting vehicles all over Vancouver (cast as itself for a change) but the actors just hit their marks and strike poses. Ray Park is the minion baddie, and gets a big punch-up with Liu.

First published in this form here.

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