With a title like "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever", you would think that it was a video game. Actually it is-- "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" started out as a Gameboy Advance 'spy vs. spy'-style first-person shooter (with a follow-up already on its way), which was then repurposed into the Hollywood debut of director Wych Kaosayananda (or Kaos for short), who had already made a name for himself in his native Thailand. Alas, this also explains why "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" is such a terrible waste of time.
The plot (if you can call it that) revolves around the recovery of a nanotechnology-based robot that can be injected into a victim and cause a heart attack. It has been stolen by the rich and powerful Robert Gant (Gregg Henry of "Star Trek: Insurrection"), who also happens to be the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (or DIA for short), and smuggled into Vancouver. Ex-FBI agent Jeremiah Ecks (Antonio Banderas of "Spy Kids 2") is coerced back into service to track down the device after his old boss Julio Martin (Miguel Sandoval of "Collateral Damage") drops a bombshell-- his wife Rayne (Talisa Soto from the "Mortal Kombat" film franchise), who apparently died from a car bomb seven years ago, is still alive. If Ecks takes the case, Martin will provide him whatever information he has on Rayne's whereabouts.
Unfortunately, Ecks soon finds his hands full as he steps into a labyrinthine web of intrigue (on the other hand, it was probably just bad writing that made it confusing). Also after the device is ex-DIA agent Sever (Lucy Liu of "Charlie's Angels"), who has a bone to pick with Gant. Finally, there is Gant's right-hand man Ross (Ray Park of "X-Men"), who has it in for both Ecks and Sever, requiring the rival agents to work together.
After sitting through this film, about the only thing I could discern was that director Kaos really, really wanted to be John Woo ("Windtalkers"). Within its 87-minute running time (which was 87 minutes too long), there are plenty of ear-popping explosions, car chases, and clip-burning shoot-outs, all of which seem to lay waste to the quiet Canadian city of Vancouver. However, even if you are the kind of moviegoer who thrives on these things, Kaos seems to a little out of his league when it comes to directing the wall-to-wall action sequences. His penchant for using slo-mo everywhere without any consideration for pacing issues makes the action set pieces tedious to watch. He also borrows elements from Woo's 'heroic bloodshed' Hong Kong films, such as Ecks and Sever placing guns in various hiding spots, only to pull them out later when the bad guys are on their tails, which some will recognize from "A Better Tomorrow (Yinghung bunsik)".
On top of the unremarkable direction is the collection of lifeless characters and the banal things they say to each other. All the characters, with the exception of Sever (who doesn't say much at all), bark in the same terse tone at one another, sprinkling plenty of secret-agenty mumbo-jumbo in their boring conversations. Banderas, who can be charming and fun to watch in the right roles (such as the "Spy Kids" films), is wasted here, though not as much as Liu, whose constant expression of indifference and cool posturing almost become a running joke. Park, best known for portraying Darth Maul in "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace", is the typical chief henchman, who has no life, personality, or individual opinion other than doing his boss' bidding. The rest of the cast fares just as poorly, with Henry as the film's smirky villain, Sandoval dropping out of the picture after the first act, Sota as the world's most gullible woman, and a 'now you see her, now you don't' appearance by Sandrine Holt, best known from John Woo's short-lived "Once a Thief" television series.
Who would have thought car chases, explosions, martial arts, and shoot-outs could be so boring? Don't let the pyrotechnics-laden trailer fool you-- "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" is a dud, and like most video game-to-movie translations, this one works far better on the Gameboy screen. With lackluster direction that stretch two-minute action sequences into ten-minute ones, a buzzy beat-heavy soundtrack to punctuate every on-screen explosion, and laughably over-the-top furrowing of brows that passes for acting, "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" is a case in point of 'less being more'.