Tag Archives: D-

BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER

Producer: 
Director: 
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: 

D-

“Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever” (a title easily in the running for the year’s worst) is directed by a fellow who calls himself Kaos (he’s actually a Thai filmmaker named Wych Kaosayananda who’s shortened his moniker to create a nom de cute), so it could be said that it comes by its messiness naturally (although at one point a character remarks, “This doesn’t have to get messy”) Despite a slick surface and lots of glitzy action, it’s a shambles of a movie–visually unattractive, unbearably loud and utterly silly. Watching it is like being trapped inside a pinball machine for ninety minutes–one that’s constantly in operation.

Mr. Kaos is extremely fond of explosions–big, orange ones that fill the screen with light and noise. He also likes long, pointless chases–by foot, motorcycle, and car–as well as massive gunfights in which nobody seems ever to get seriously injured (bad shots, all) and elaborate one-on-one and one-against-a-multitude kung-fu matches. In the process of offering up these various action cliches Kaos copies virtually all the visual tropes to be found in the films of John Woo (as well as those Woo might merely have imagined making)–it would require only a shot of doves for absolute completeness in that regard. And he just loves slow-motion: if all the slowed-down shots were speeded up, the 91-minute running time would probably decrease by a third. There’s also one of those maddeningly pulsating music scores by Don Davis to enhance the headache-inducing properties of the images.

The story, or what passes for one? Antonio Banderas plays Jeremiah Ecks, a widowed, and therefore understandably morose, former FBI legend who reluctantly undertakes to track down Sever (Lucy Liu), a renegade ex-DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) operative. She’s kidnapped the son of Robert Gant (Gregg Henry), the evil head of the DIA, for a reason that involves a stolen device that will serve as the perfect soulless assassin. Many chases and fights, along with endless explosions, ensue before the two find out that they are, to nobody’s surprise, fighting the same enemy, and they join forces to wipe out Gant’s inept toadies. That, of course, sets the stage for yet more chases, fights and explosions, with a limp last confrontation.

This is comic-book stuff; the problem is that a single panel in any monthly magazine has more depth and interest than all of “Ballistic,” and comics usually have a lot more logic and coherence, too. Banderas, Liu, Henry and their cohorts don’t act as much as strike a succession of poses, like statues; they’re also frequently photographed in clouds of swirling smoke for effect (Kaos seems to like the stuff as much as Ridley Scott). Banderas is all carefully-arranged scruffiness, Liu an impassive, leather-clad vixen, and Henry a smirking clothes horse who expends most of his energy sneering and cocking his head to indicate disdain for everyone around him. In the supporting cast Ray Park and Talisa Soto stand out as Gant’s lieutenant and wife (who also turns out to be a Very Important Person for other plot purposes), but for unfortunate reasons: he can’t recite dialogue credibly to save his life, while she not only sports a totally incongruous accent but mouths a few of the most ludicrous lines Alan McElroy’s script has to offer (and that’s really saying something). For some unexplained reason all the international intrigue occurs in Vancouver, probably because it’s cheap to shoot there (apparently in every sense of the verb) and the makers were too lazy to try to create the illusion that it was someplace else. By the end it would appear that at least half of the city has been blown to smithereens.

“Ballistic” is even funnier than Mad Magazine’s similarly-themed “Spy Vs. Spy.” A pity its hilarity is completely unintentional.

THE NEW GUY

Producer: 
Director: 
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: 

C-

And still they come, one after another–terrible, tedious student comedies, filled with the crummiest of gross-out gags and palpably phony messages about Being True to Yourself and Not Trying to be Someone You’re Not. This time around the picture centers on a hapless geek named Dizzy (DJ Qualls) who’s mercilessly tormented by the jocks and swells at his high school and, while briefly incarcerated, takes lessons about acting cool from Luther, a bad-ass hoodlum type (Eddie Griffin). Once released, he takes a new identity as a fellow named Gil and goes to a different campus, where he quickly becomes the local hero by besting the school bully (Ross Patterson), wooing his girlfriend (Eliza Dushku) and filling the other kids with such spirit that their downtrodden football team wins the state championship. In the process he temporarily ignores his old buddies (Zooey Deschanel, Jerod Mixon and Perry Shen), with whom he has a funk band, but ultimately he reverts to his sweet old self and finds that people admire him even more in that guise.

As is usually the case with these kinds of flicks, “The New Guy” is written like a series of skits with little connection to one another, and in this case they don’t even bother to maintain any inner consistency or logic. The character of Dizzy/Gil switches from cool to nerdy with bewildering frequency, and Luther pops up abruptly whenever needed (he also delivers the obvious narration); pointless cameos by the likes of Jerry O’Connell, Gene Simons, Tommy Lee, Vanilla Ice and Henry Rollins add to the feeling of randomness. The result is an incoherent jumble of tastelessness, stupidity, poor cinematic takeoffs and cloying sweetness, all delivered with numbing clumsiness. The best one can say of it is that it doesn’t get worse as it goes along; but that’s only because it starts out appallingly, with a boner joke that immediately sinks to the nadir, and it’s difficult to live down to that for a full ninety minutes.

Qualls, a gangly fellow who was one of the pals in “Road Trip,” has a certain charm as the transformed Dizzy, but the flick forces him into contortions, both physical and otherwise, that make it impossible for him to maintain his dignity for long. (His appearance, moreover–he looks rather like David Spade stretched out on a rack to greater height, but minus the contemptuous sneer–makes him frankly incredible as a stud. Until someone decides to make a faithful version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and needs a perfect Ichabod Crane, no role is ever likely completely to suit him.) Dushku looks fine in a cheerleading outfit, but her character–who’s supposed to be simultaneously sultry and sweet–is as conflicted as that of Dizzy/Gil. The other young performers acquaint themselves decently enough in stock roles, though Sher is sadly stuck with some junky gay humor. The real embarrassment, though, is among the grownups. Griffin mugs so badly as Dizzy’s jailhouse mentor that one fears for the scenery as well as his fellow actors. Lyle Lovett plays Dizzy’s dad as a redneck moron, and his line readings defy belief. Illeana Douglas, a talented actress, dumbs down to an appalling degree as a clueless guidance counselor. Kurt Fuller goes out of control as the principal of Dizzy’s new school. But certainly the worst moments belong to veteran Geoffrey Lewis, whose big scene involves his sitting on a toilet and struggling to manage a bowel movement. To think that a respectable career has sunk to this! Technically the flick is mediocre at best, and the direction by writer-turned-helmer Ed Dechter seems flat-footed and unsure.

“The New Guy” isn’t quite as awful as “Not Another Teen Movie” or “Slackers,” but that’s hardly a compliment. As far as the performers and filmmakers are concerned, they’d be well advised simply to point to scripter David Kendall as the main culprit, and embrace as their own one of the lines that he puts into the mouth of Luther near the beginning of the movie. “As you can see,” the con notes while we’re being introduced to Dizzy, “I didn’t have much to work with.”