Sunday, July 31, 2011

Worst of the Worst: #1, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever

And so we come to the end of the journey, 647 days after I first saw Rotten Tomatoes' "Worst of the Worst" list and 643 days after I watched the first movie, A Sound of Thunder.  We'll get to a post-mortem on the quest in a couple of days, but first, there's one more movie: the single worst-reviewed movie of 2000-09, according to Rotten Tomatoes, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is a movie about a person named Ecks fighting a person named Sever.  Okay, not really.  They barely actually fight.  This confused me because I proclaimed loudly as the movie began that, as the movie subtitled "Ecks vs. Sever," there was no way that Ecks and Sever would ever join forces to fight against a common enemy, especially since both are played by the two biggest stars (by far) in the movie.  Alas, Ecks and Sever only nominally fight, in that Ecks fires like two of the approximately one google bullets fired during the movie at Sever at one point.  I suppose Ballistic: Ecks and Sever vs. Evil Rich Guy would be a stupid title.

Lucy Liu is Sever (no first name), a super agent for an American defense agency, who is really good at shooting people and then beating them up by kicking really close to their face, but never quite connecting, even though they fly backwards.  Antonio Banderas is Jeremiah Ecks, though he is consistently referred to in the second half of the movie as Jeremy Ecks, a super agent for the FBI, who we are told is really good at shooting people, but he doesn't really fight all that much in the movie because Banderas isn't as good as an actor at martial arts as Liu is, I think.  Notice that both are American agents, yet everything happens in Vancouver and nobody cares.  Everyone else in the movie is there to be shot, beat up, or both, except for Ecks' wife and her son.  We learn that Ecks thinks his wife is dead, but she's married to the bad guy, but then she just goes right back to Ecks anyway in a scene involving dolphins swimming behind a darkened room.  The dialogue in that scene -- and all scenes -- is delivered at a whisper.  I thought that the Netflix stream was messed up, but it wasn't; I had to turn the TV way up to hear the speaking, but the explosions were at regular volume, so my ears went from bleeding from the loud explosions to hurting from straining to hear the actors speaking.  I can only assume they whispered to make the many, many, many explosions sound that much louder.

So, yes, there are explosions every two minutes, there is a series of events that is called a "plot," there are words put together that are called "dialogue."  There is even a long fight scene at the end between Lucy Liu and Ray Park, two accomplished martial arts actors, in which they barely touch each other, are lit badly, and the director's insistence on cutting between shots every three seconds leads to no continuity of the action.  Of course, that no continuity is right in line with everything else in the movie, so I guess it works.  All of this combines to make a real head-shaker of a movie.  All of the choices made with the movie (assuming someone was actually thinking about this purposefully), from the story to the editing to the acting to the sound to the camera work and so on, combine in a way in which one can understand why this would stand atop the heap as the #1 worst movie of the decade.


It's just not that bad.  It's bad, absolutely, but it's not #1 bad, for two reasons.  One, Banderas is just a good freaking actor.  He has nothing to work with here, but he has such screen presence that he makes it so that not every second is awful.  He's delivering crappy lines to bad actors, but he's delivering them in a way that makes sense.  Also, I tried to envision some of the lines as coming from Puss in Boots, and that helped.  Two, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is hilarious.  I've written about how some of the movies on this list are painful to watch, but that's just not true of this one.  It is a mess in such a way that I was laughing out loud for most of the movie.  The goofs in the stunts where it is clear that nobody is actually touching anyone else during fights.  The moment where a guy gets shot and everyone runs to put pressure on his chest, but you never see a bullet hole or any blood (and later find out that he's totally fine because the bullet missed his heart by one centimeter).  The constant explosions that led to the $70 million budget (it made less than $20 million at the box office).  I particularly enjoyed watching the guy who played Curtis on '24' in every scene he was in; he perpetually looked either confused at the direction or angry to be in the movie.

Ballistic is about as poorly-made as any big-budget movie I've ever seen, but the fact that it made me laugh means that it was at least a little bit entertaining, even if it wasn't in the way the film makers had planned.  Movies that are made poorly are one way to decide what is "worst," but I think the best way is that entertainment value.  If you really get nothing out of a movie, it's worse than a movie from which you get even a little bit.  So Epic Movie or Meet The Spartans, which were a big zero on the entertainment scale?  3 Strikes or Master of Disguise or Merci, Docteur Rey!, which were net-negatives in terms of how they made me feel?  All are worse than a movie that made me laugh.  If this film were a spoof of a no-plot, all-action movie, trying to be bad, it would actually succeed in ways that any number of SNL action-spoof movies have not.  Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever may very well be the worst put-together movie I've ever seen, but it's not the worst movie, and not even that close to it.

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