Grade: 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.