Review Date: 3/12/03
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Lucy Liu, Talisa Soto, Ray Park
Some women buy shoes, but former DIA Agent Sever (hard as nails Lucy Liu) prefers buying guns. LOTS of guns... The film begins as Sever kidnaps the son of a wealthy and unscrupulous businessman named Robert Gant. Ex-DIA Agent Jeremy Ecks (a tired Antonio Banderas) is persuaded to investigate the case by his old boss, who tells him that his presumably dead wife (delicious Talisa Soto) isn't so dead afterall. So, the unstoppable force of Sever collides with the relentless drive of Ecks, until they both realize that they should be fighting a common enemy - Gant. Working together, they shoot a lot of people and blow lots of things up to achieve their objectives.
While universally reviled by critics as the worst film of 2002, I actually found it extremely enjoyable. Yes, it's silly and full of plot holes and lapses of reason, but the characters are fun and the action is exciting. The film is really all about Lucy Liu, and she steals every frame with the confidence and conviction of a hardened action veteran. Her presence, posturing, and movement are right on the money, and she never flinches in the face of danger. Cold and efficient, most of her hand-to-hand fight scenes are wonderful, and she doesn't pull any of her punches with Banderas or Ray Park. She also handles her guns very nicely, as though it were second nature with cool precision and no-nonsense know-how. Unfortunately, like most of her other performances, her delivery is flat and uninspired, which slightly deflates the impact of her character. Maybe it's perfect for Agent Sever's personality, but I wanted to feel something from her other than completely detached boredom. Antonio Banderas makes a good tragic hero as a broken man trying to drown the grief of his dead wife with alcohol. He's convincing for the most part, although half of his lines are slurred beyond any sort of comprehension. The beautiful Talisa Soto has a wonderfully non-exploitive role for a change, as a heart-broken widow, a caring mother, and a strong woman. Very nice to see that. And then there's Ray Park and his bad haircut, who just hangs around in the scenery until the final showdown with Lucy Liu, which is VERY rewarding.
If this movie had come out in the late 80's or early 90's, it would have been dismissed as so much loud and pointless action fluff. But in today's climate of digital promiscuity, I found this old school approach extremely refreshing. Remember when they used to blow things up for real, using dynamite, gasoline, and gunpowder? When people could fight without the aid of wires? When cars got smashed with extreme prejudice? When films weren't shot on virtual sets with the actors out of harm's way? "Ballistic's" strongest merit is that it's a very physical film, and even though it's outrageous, what you're seeing and what the actors are going through is very tangible and believeable. Things explode with orgasmic fury, cars get lovingly smashed and blown to pieces, bullets fly with poetic grace, and the actors are there in the thick of it to translate that sense of danger and being there to the audience. This is far more satisfying than seeing someone composited against an explosion, even if the explosion element on its own may be far more spectacular. Anyway, while it's not a landmark in great action cinema, it certainly is a fun and enjoyable ride for fans of the genre.