Sometimes, even The A.V. Club isn’t impervious to the sexy allure of ostensible cultural garbage. Which is why there’s I Watched This On Purpose, our feature exploring the impulse to spend time with trashy-looking yet in some way irresistible entertainments, playing the long odds in hopes of a real reward and a good time.
Cultural infamy: “Overwhelming dislike.” That’s how the opinion-aggregators over at Metacritic express with words a cumulative critical score of 19. At Rotten Tomatoes, it’s a whiz-bang 0 percent fresh, which means that no review out of the 107 they’re counting could be construed as positive. The movie? Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever, the 2002 flick starring Lucy Liu and Antonio Banderas, which may actually have been forgotten as early as 2000. (Einstein explains the quandary in his little-read work The Vortex Of Suck.) And that’s the sum total of my knowledge about Ballistic: the names of the two leads and its reputation for being horrible.
Unfortunately, B:EvsS, or BEVS, as I will hereafter refer to it, does not have a reputation for being so bad it’s good. What little reputation it does have is for being so bad it’s bad, and also because basically no one saw it, rented it, or paid it any attention whatsoever. It’s almost shocking that it even got a theatrical release, considering how quickly it disappeared from the public consciousness, or failed to penetrate that consciousness in the first place. It cost $70 million to make and has raked in just under $20 million, according to Wikipedia. But I don’t know anybody except Keith Phipps who’s actually seen it, and he had an excuse: He was working. Other fun facts before we begin: BEVS was written by Alan B. McElroy, the same guy who wrote Halloween 4 and the Left Behind screenplay, and who’s credited with the upcoming screenplay for Tekken. (Yes, that Tekken.) Director Wych Kaosayananda has just one other directing credit in the IMDB. Apparently no one let him make another movie after this one.
The viewing experience: All the above information raises the question “There’s no way this movie could possibly be as bad as all that, could it?” I mean, there are guns and shooting and explosions and it’s rated R, right? Expectations couldn’t be lower, so it has to surpass them. I even enjoyed Assassins on some level, so I’m probably the (half-retarded) target audience for this movie.
But as I watched its barely there 90 minutes, I kept hearing Eminem’s lyric from “Role Model” in my head: “How the fuck can I be white? I don’t even exist.” In this case, it’s more “How much can I suck? I barely exist.” Pretty much every frame of BEVS is instantly forgettable, from its paper-thin plot (which betrays the movie’s title—more on that later) to its stilted acting to its by-the-book shootouts. Let me try and name you 10 action movies off the top of my head that are better: Under Siege, Crank, Crank 2, Con Air, Commando, Cobra, Hitman, Shooter, Die Hard (too easy)… Even that piece of shit Taken, which made tons of money, was more memorable than BEVS. (I’m not saying it’s better—I can’t go that far.)
Anyway, here’s the plot—place it in one eye and let it seep out the other. Bad guy’s kid gets kidnapped. Antonio Banderas gets pulled out of drunken retirement to help find him. Lucy Liu did the kidnapping, but mostly because the bad guy is a bad guy, and she wants revenge. Eventually Liu and Banderas, who initially think they’re enemies, team up to kill the bad guy in an ironic manner, after letting him give a speech and blowing a bunch of stuff up.
In one of several attempts to make the movie “classy,” director Wych Kaosayananda (credited as “Kaos,” which is awesome) gets deep with the visuals. Banderas is miserable, which is reflected in the fact that he a) walks in the rain, b) in slow motion, and c) flicks his cigarette with extreme sadness. The scene also offers flashbacks to a traumatic event in Banderas’ life—the explosion of his favorite car.
When we meet the bad guy, played with light menace by Gregg Henry, he’s murdering one of his own henchmen by handing him a gun that fires backward. It’s incredibly stupid, and yet almost the only attempt to be clever in this entire movie, so plus and minus for that. Speaking of menace, Ray “Darth Maul” Park shows up as the baddie’s right-hand man, a.k.a. the guy who’s second-to-last to die in any movie like this one. There’s a reason he was largely silent in Phantom Menace, and completely silent in G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, as Snake Eyes—he can’t act.
At some point we meet Lucy Liu, who’s an orphaned Chinese girl (cuz, y’know, they only like boy children over there) trained to be the ultimate assassin by Henry’s organization, which may be loosely based on the NSA, but who cares. The first big action scene comes when Liu is trapped in a mall, but blasts and kicks her way out. You know how on old TV shows, when characters were supposed to be running away from something, or doing crazy action, but they moved really slowly and choppily—as if there were reacting to a director rather than a bullet? That’s how Liu looks pretty much all the time. When she looks around for danger, she’s about as natural as Mark Wahlberg playing Dirk Diggler playing Brock Landers in Boogie Nights. Only it isn’t funny.
Hey look, it’s Curtis from 24!
In this amazing scene, Liu is for some reason going to drive her getaway car directly into a truck even before Banderas shoots her tires out. Listen for a cop saying something about how the situation has gotten out of hand. Because it totally has.
Anyway, Ecks and Sever finally meet, and they do a little dance. Minutes later, they’re checking out each other’s Facebook profiles, errrr, top-secret files, which they expertly hack. In between kicking ass and reading files, Liu gives some food to the kidnapped child. At some point in here, we learn that the evil guy’s evil plan involves some sort of nano-machine that can kill people and make it look like a heart attack. My question: Aren’t there poisons in other movies that can do that just as well, without building this complicated thing? And obviously, there are just regular old bullets, too! We also learn that Ecks’ wife is dead. (Or do we…?)
The bad guy always wears a raincoat and a crisp fedora, just so you know.
When Liu gets him on the phone—he’s her former boss—she offers to trade the kid’s life for his. Check out her lair.
At some point in here, Liu and Banderas realize that they’re on the same side. Look again at the title of the movie, and how it was sold. An FBI agent vs. an NSA agent, who kick each other’s asses. BUT THEY BARELY FIGHT. The title is bullshit. We’ve been sold a bill of goods, movie fans. It should’ve been called Ecks And Sever Team Up To Fight The Dapper Bad Guy Whose Plan Is Way Too Complicated And Who Has A Lot Of Faceless Henchmen Helping Him, Including Darth Maul.
Eventually we realize that the bad guy’s wife is actually Banderas’ wife, and that the kidnapped child is Banderas’ child. I wish I were making that up. Here’s a line of dialogue: “He was the only piece of you I had left.” (Not to be culturally insensitive, but how did these two people of Hispanic descent have such a lily-white little kid?)
Anyway, action happens. It happens in movie-cliché sets across Vancouver, including an auto graveyard and a train yard rigged with explosives. Naturally, the main baddie shows up for the final battle himself, to save the heroes the time of tracking him down after killing his mini-army.
Every big scene feels conceived by someone with no original ideas about how to do it—someone who’s seen lots of movies but just barely digested them, and has no idea what makes them interesting, just what makes them go. There are a bunch of explosions, and people walking away from those explosions. Worst of all, Liu and Banderas don’t even appear to be having any fun! Check this out.
“Let’s finish this.” Seriously, put it out of its misery. Okay, I got a quick laugh out of these goons being electrocuted—Liu somehow knew that shooting electric wires would cause this to happen.
On the plus side, though, I’m actually very glad to know that the most important criteria for the “worst” movie is actually “most boring.” A movie like this shouldn’t be put in the same category as glorious failures like Southland Tales or meta-action flicks like Crank 2 (which I’m convinced will be taught in film schools in 10 years). This movie simply does not exist at all. It’s a mirage. Instead of giving a big backstory, the villain simply says that his motives were “power and profit.” I’m not kidding, he actually says that.
When it comes time to kill him, Liu must of course use his own nano-weapon against him, so she comes up with an elaborate plan to… zzzz… You don’t give a shit, and you shouldn’t. Ballistic didn’t actually happen anyway, so there’s no need to tell you about it.
How much of the experience wasn’t a total waste of time?: Those minutes that I checked my e-mail and looked at the TV over the top of my computer. So let’s stick with Rotten Tomatoes and give it a 0 rating. Actually, is there a theoretical number we could assign this? A number so small it hasn’t been discovered yet? Better yet, a number that disappears when you look at it? Help me out, scientists.
One thing I must comment on, though: As a “special feature” on the BEVS DVD, there’s a game that’s essentially rock-paper-scissors with a computer opponent, but with kicks and punches. You select, for example, “high kick,” and then it tells you whether you’ve won or lost. There cannot possibly be a dumber way to spend your time—even watching the movie again.