Despite the film's awkward mouthful of a title, star Lucy Liu's lines in "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" could fit neatly on the back of postage stamp.
As steely assassin Sever, Liu reverts to an almost classic (read: dated) action-hero mold -- a monosyllabic Lee Marvin type who waxes bad guys without much pomp or circumstance. Save for this juxtaposition of cinematic archetypes, "Ballistic" offers little beyond what you'd find in a typical subpar Hollywood action film.
In many ways, it's far less than that, staging fight scenes that seem oddly stilted. Hollywood fisticuffs should be like dancing, a violent waltz of visual zip. Here, you can almost see Liu's fighting partners freeze up and brace for punches in the most inelegantly hokey fights since "West Side Story."
Liu shares above-the-title billing with Antonio Banderas, scruffy and nicotine-stained as Jeremiah Ecks, the FBI's former one-man wrecking machine. After the loss of his wife years earlier, Ecks is pulled back into the fray with information that she may still be alive.
Navigating the politics and cowboy-quick trigger fingers of a shadow government, Ecks must find the link between a microscopic killer, his former boss and Sever's kidnapping of a child.
It's a dizzying gobbledygook plot that the audience gets no help navigating. About two subplots too thick, the miniature-biological-assassin angle gets pushed to the background when things get personal and things start exploding.
Heavy artillery for intellectual lightweights, "Ballistic" offers the most onscreen explosions in recent memory. It's almost pornography for arsonists. In close-up, Banderas even gets a face full of hot ash after an ill-timed charge explodes very near his noggin.
A scattered endeavor, "Ballistic" is full of editing mistakes and cinematic tricks that sophomore director Kaos doesn't have enough experience to hide.
1 1/2 stars (out of 4)
"Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever" Directed by Kaos; written by Alan McElroy; photographed by Julio Macat; edited by Jay Cassidy, Caroline Ross; production design by Doug Higgins; produced by Elie Samaha, Chris Lee, Kaos. A Warner Bros. Pictures release; opens Friday, Sept. 20. Running time: 1:31. MPAA rating: R (strong violence).
Jeremiah Ecks -- Antonio Banderas
Sever -- Lucy Liu
Gant -- Gregg Henry
Ross -- Ray Park Vinn -- Talisa Soto
Robert K. Elder is a Tribune staff reporter.