Friday, November 13, 2009

A Decade of Dreck #7: Ballistic: Ecks Versus Sever

Charge Shot!!! is celebrating the end of the decade in the most masochistic way we know how - by watching and writing about the 100 worst movies of the last ten years as defined by film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Click here to see RT's complete list, click here for more about the Decade of Dreck project, and click here to see all of the movies we've done so far.

Have you ever gotten to a movie theater a few minutes late, and missed the start of a movie? Or started watching a movie on TV halfway through? It's always a disorienting experience - you can sort of figure out what's going on, but there are often references to things that are alien to you, and unfamiliar characters keep showing up.

This is the experience I had while watching Ballistic: Ecks Versus Sever. Only I watched the entire thing. Unless the DVD was faulty, I am fairly certain I watched all 91 minutes from beginning to end. But I still feel as if I'm missing something. The characters all talk to each other as if the background story has already been explained. It hasn't. By the end of the film, I was still unsure how most of the central characters were related to one another. Most of their conversations consist of a surreal series of non-sequiturs that provide no actual exposition or plot development

Ballistic: Ecks Versus Sever is about two secret agents duking it out. Lucy Liu is Agent Sever, a woman works for some organization called the "DIA". Antonio Banderas is FBI Agent Ecks (so named because he pops ecstasy pills while on the job). They both become involved in a kidnapping plot that is somehow involved with smuggling robotic assassination equipment. It turns out that, though pitted against one another, the two agents are working for the same person. I think.

It's not that I wasn't paying attention during this movie. It's that the movie is incredibly bad at simply conveying information to the viewer. At the beginning of the film, as one scene shifts to another, there's the use of slow motion and fuzzy picture. I thought this meant a transition to a flashback, and it was about ten minutes later that I realized what I was watching was actually taking place in the present. Later on, there is a real flashback, which is not indicated by anything, and so I failed to recognize it after my initial mistake.

I don't want to give the impression that I didn't like this movie. While it has the unfortunate distinction of topping Rotten Tomatoes' list, I actually had a pretty good time watching it. When I was in high school, I had a friend who came up with the idea for a movie called Things Explode For No Reason. The concept of this movie is pretty self-explanatory; I'm sure that you have had a similar idea at some point. Ballistic: Ecks Versus Sever does not quite reach this level of arbitrary explosiveness, but it comes close. In the opening scene, a dump truck runs into a car. Both explode. Most of the remaining 96 minutes have some sort of car chase or explosion in it. A school bus breaks in half and explodes. Sever's car flips over and explodes (she, of course, is fine). For some reason, the final battle takes place over a vat of acid in a factory filled with steam and flames. I am not sure what this factory manufactures, other than explosions.

So, I can't claim to have hated this movie. The plot was nonsensical, the acting was shit, the editing was awful. But the explosion per minute ratio is insanely high, so I was never bored. Also, the movie is set in the same parallel universe as Crank and Grand Theft Auto, in which characters just happen to find rocket launchers lying around to pick up and use. How cool is this? In one scene, a main character reaches under a train to pick up a rocket launcher he had hidden there earlier, and blows some guys away.

Does this sound awesome? What if I told you that this happens at least four other times? That's right, these characters hid multiple rocket launchers under multiple train cars, just in case they found themselves in a tight spot in this very trainyard multiple times.

In the end, I'm surprised there's anything in this city left (the movie is set in Vancouver for absolutely no reason whatsoever). The movie tries to paint Agents Ecks and Sever as Good Assassins, secret agents with families and feelings who don't want to harm innocents. But while Agent Sever is reluctant to kill a helpless FBI agent, she's more than willing to blow away an entire block of traffic with a rocket launcher to destroy her target. I suppose because you don't see the drivers' faces, this sort of collateral damage is acceptable.

So, is this really the worst movie of the decade? Absolutely not. It's bad, nonsensical, abysmal even, but it's so over-the-top ridiculous that you can't help but be entertained. Right away, I can list several movies this decade that were far worse, including Space Chimps, Dragon Wars, Strange Wilderness and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. This is a case of the critics mistaking the incomprehensible for the unenjoyable. I didn't understand a thing that happened in this movie, but I can't deny that, on a very base, juvenile level, it's sort of fun.

Ballistic: Ecks Versus Sever is ranked #1 on the Rotten Tomatoes Worst 100 list with 0% freshness. It's RT page can be found here.