|Star:||Antonio Banderas, Lucy Liu, Gregg Henry, Talisa Soto, Ray Park|
|Cert / Year:||15 - R / 2002|
When the young son of Robert Gant (Gregg Henry), the wealthy and unscrupulous head of a top secret "black operations unit" is kidnapped right from under the noses of his men, it seems that someone has hired a "professional" to strike back at him. The FBI have had Gant under observation though, and become intrigued by recent events, and his recent activities which may also include the theft of a piece of top secret weaponry which is the ultimate in assassination. The best FBI agent for the job retired years ago, but with such a sensitive case they need the best and that is Jeremiah Ecks (Antonio Banderas) . On outward appearance Ecks seems a particuarly scruffy and unkempt individual whiling away his days in bars, who is of course "burned out" and off the rails due to the death of his wife (Talisa Soto) in a car bomb years before. His former boss Julio (Miguel Sandoval) entices him back to work with the news that his wife is actually still alive and should he solve the case he will be given information which will lead him to her. Thus blackmailed into the frying pan, Ecks embarks on a journey to find the lethal, mysterious assassin who kidnapped Gant's son. His investigation however becomes hampered by surly DIA agent Ross (Ray Park) who works for Gant and is also hunting the assassin, who just so happens to be a hard bitten young woman called Sever (Lucy Liu) who is intent upon killing Gant and will let no-one stand in her way....
This is quite a surprising film, a quiet release with no publicity and yet this almost unheard of release is unlike many similar offerings. This is a cut above the rest. There is a distinct degree of realism and attention to detail they have opted to bring here which plays a major part in elevating the film. No cheap looking CGI effects controlling the picture here, as we are treated to real explosions and plenty of them. The fight scenes are very well thought out and realised, affording some very good technical choreography which isn't bogged down by or reliant upon wire work. In fact, there isn't any wire work here and all cast concerned rely upon their own abilities, admittedly the only members of the cast that this actually refers to is really Antonio Banderas, Lucy Liu and Ray Park but we already know that those guys can fight.
There is some slick, innovative and inventive direction at the hands of young newcomer Kaos (real name Wych Kaosayananda) which is quite impressive. The direction is imbued with distinct Hong Kong Cinema influence which is plainly evident and most welcome as much of the film's overrall style, cinematography and action choreography bears more than a passing resemblence to some classic HK cinema. The avant garde direction of Kaos features some outstanding photography and fantastically potent, Manga-esque imagery all thoughtfully put together with an artistic flair that is sure to please some of the more discerning action film fans out there. A cool, action packed espionage action thriller, a rip roaring frenzy of a film. There are some very memorable and intense, kinetically charged action scenes, which have a balletic grace and fluidity, providing some breathtaking set pieces all of which are very slick and go with a bang.
Written by Alan B. McElroy who also wrote Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Rapid Fire, this hi-tech espionage story is a good yarn, not flawless or wildly original but well written and nicely done overrall. This gritty little film, may well be devoid of witty one liners or dumb humour to keep the low brow audience interested but it does deliver a very cool story with some icy performances. It has to be said that the film is a little predictable though, including the couple of plot twists and does play to the "action" market so won't prove particuarly stimulating or challenging but it is nonetheless a wildly entertaining action fest. Kaos builds a good atmosphere and keeps an energetic feel throughout the film with a combination of effervescent direction and brilliant cinematography. It is hard to believe that this is the first feature presentation from this director, and I would like to believe this is no fluke and he will be one to watch in the future. In places the editing is a little poor as shots chop & change poorly, sometimes at the expense of the pacing during an action scene which can be dissappointing. This leads to an ending which at times feels a little rushed, but still manages to be an exciting finale.
Ray Park (Phantom Menace, The X-Men) could have been used more and should have been afforded more fight scenes to highlight his martial arts talents, because his acting isn't particuarly accomplished. It is such a shame that they secure the services of a well known martial artist and not use his skills to best effect. When you do get to see him fight it is a little dull but is carried by the performance of his opponent, which is saying something. Lucy Liu provides perhaps her best big screen performance to date and easily out shines the cheese fest that is Charlies Angels. She handles the action exceptionally well and turns in an excellent performance and is one of the best things in the film. Antonio Banderas provides his usual gruff, grumbly performance as he mutters his lines with the vocal projection of a titmouse and does his usual "startled bunny" action thing during most of his fight scenes that he manages in almost all of his movies. Once again, Gregg Henry (Payback) is reunited with Lucy Liu as he plays yet another "bad guy". Henry has that certain television actor feel and is not particuarly convincing or menacing, this is yet another case where he wanders aimlessly through a plot hoping that no one else notices he can't act very well. Why exactly he wore a fedora we'll never know, as no one else wore a hat during the film and in modern times the old wide brimmed hat does tend to make you stand out... which is not an ideal attribute for a covert government agent and certainly not the head of a "black ops" unit!
It is nice to be able to praise an original film with a fresh directorial approach, it is seldom possible with the current trends that seem to regurgitate the same old convoluted ideas from the US as they plagiarise Asian cinema. Ever since the advent of The Matrix everything seems to have become rather repetitive and there has been little variation in releases since. There are a few films which have managed to seem original in the post- Matrix cinematic surplus yard. Unfortunately, as these are not the usual low forehead teen fodder Matrix-clone that the studio want you to see, they are the lesser known movies. This and Equilibrium are prime examples of how the studios are out of touch with the audience as they shamelessly hurl vast amounts of money at what they think are the "earners" and sacrifice what are proving to be the better films. Ballistic is a very good film, an explosive and wildly entertaining ride well worth watching.
Ecks: Where did you get all this ordinance?
Sever: Some women collect shoes.
When is a Steven Segal movie not a Steven Segal movie? Answer; when it is the atrociously entitled Ballistic: Eccs Vs. Sever. This film epitomizes all that is wrong with the Hollywood action movie at the current time. Ok so it may lack the usual amount of CGI, but no amount of big explosions can hide the fact that this is a sad mess of a film.
Lets start with the main cast. Lucy Lui is not a martial artist, and 3 months training won't make her so. Her moves are slow, labored, and just don't flow (a point highlighted by the poor direction, more on which in a minute). This wouldn't have mattered if she had some recourse to her undoubted acting talents but her role just doesn't require it. Antonio Banderas was excellent in Femme Fatale so what happened here, I guess he just went to sleep and didn't wake up. In this comatose state he struggles with dialogue scenes and is ill at ease during the action (a sort of poor mans Segal, which really says it all). The biggest crime though is that Ray Park the one cast member with martial arts skills is given smeg all to do until the last ten minutes.
With this (miss) cast assembled it comes to the amateurish direction of the equally atrociously entitled Kaos. I can confidently predict that Kaos is a young director with a big future, and that future is stacking shelves at my local super market. He has absolutely no idea how to direct action what so ever. He uses a ridiculous amount of slow motion to no effect (so much so that I thought Lucy Lui was on Valium at first), he maintains wide shots when a close ups would have bought the audience into the action, and he gives the whole film a made for television feel.
So only the cracking story can save us then. Well, no. It is a tired post Van Damme affair, which gives the thinnest of excuses to blow things up. It just doesn't flow, and in many places just doesn't make sense (check out the kid who loves to be kidnapped!). Add to this the terrible dialogue and how this script got green lighted for such a big money film becomes a total mystery.
The only redeemable feature of this movie is the excellent stunt work and pyro-technique effects, both of which are superb. But this and Ray Park are on a hiding to nothing to save this film from being an unspeakable mess. With such fine product coming from France and Asia this film proves that Hollywood has lost the plot. If you take my advice watch The Transporter instead, the explosions may not be as big everything else is immeasurably better.
|1.85:1 Anamorphic||Excellent crisp image|
|Dolby Digital 5.1||Not a bad mix|
|Dreary static menu|
|HBO First-Look Special: a behind the scenes featurette|
|Nothing impressive but the small featurette is interesting but is overshadowed by the complete lack of anything else on the disc. Needed a better release.|