With a title as confrontational as Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, one would expect a climactic showdown between two equally matched badasses in the style of Face/Off. But such a one-on-one never really happens in this movie, a lackluster action flick with loads of wasted potential.
Jeremiah Ecks (Antonio Banderas) is an FBI manhunter who was at the top of his game until the loss of his wife. Now a broken has-been, he spends his time getting liquored up to numb the pain. But when a DIA operative codenamed Sever (Lucy Liu) goes renegade, Ecks is recalled to use his expertise to bring in the rogue agent. During the course of his assignment, though, Ecks discovers that he and Sever have an insidious, common enemy, and the two team up to defeat this mutual foe.
The movie's most noteworthy element is the image Lucy Liu manages to exude. As Sever, she's got the silent, exotic Asian assassin thing down cold. The quiet, aloof attitude doesn't always serve her well--it often makes her look like a one-trick pony. But the demeanor suits Ballistic perfectly, and she comes across as hot and deadly. There's just something appealing about a girl who can unleash the damage death machine style.
The coolest action moment comes when a fashion savvy Liu whips out a couple of batons and kicks ass on five guys at once. Unfortunately, this lasts for only about half a minute. The petite actress is at the center of other action sequences as well, including kidnapping a guarded target, indiscriminately opening fire on a crowd, breaking a punk's nose just for fun, and getting tangled up with Banderas while trying to disarm him. But these scenes are equally short-lived and don't deliver the non-stop "kung fu" that is desperately needed. Even Liu's private showdown with Ray Park is clumsy and mediocre, a definite disappointment considering he is the fight choreographer who played Star Wars' Darth Maul. Severe overuse of unnecessary slow motion is another of the film's faults, making everything sluggish instead of dramatic.
As characters, Ecks and Sever aren't nearly as interesting as their fictional profiles on the movie's official website. Ecks is constantly pining over a wife no one really cares about, and Sever's past as a mother who lost her child doesn't ring true. Most uninspiring of all is the brooding, silly villain played by Gregg Henry--this guy looks like he's trying to usurp Christopher Lambert's position as a B-movie badass gone wrong.
Ballistic's weak story could have been salvaged by some inventive action sequences and a battle royale between the two title characters. But no such fireworks are to be found here. Instead, there's slow, aimless fighting and wimpy villains, all backed by a lame techno soundtrack.
Rating: 3.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)