A film review by Craig J. Koban February 12, 2013

BULLET TO THE HEAD jj
½   

2013, R, 93 mins.

Jimmy: Sylvester Stallone / Kwon: Sung Kang / Marcus: Christian Slater / Morel: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje / Keegan: Jason Momoa / Louis: Jon Seda / Lisa: Sarah Shahi

Directed by Walter Hill / Written by Alessandro Camon, based on the graphic novel “Du Plomb Dans la Tete.” 

Gotta give it this film: there is no false advertising here, folks.

Countless souls are indeed killed via bullets of various shapes and sizes penetrating many a noggin in the very appropriately titled BULLET TO THE HEAD, which represents director Walter Hill’s return to feature film directing after an 11 year absence.  It also stars Sylvester Stallone, who monosyllabically grunts, groans, and howls through the film’s endless menagerie of grotesque and animalistic violence.  BULLET TO THE HEAD is a film of very limited ambition and scale, but I guess as an unpretentious ode to the dialogue-light and action-heavy mismatched buddy flicks that helped put both star and director on the map in the 1980’s, the film taps into our decidedly low expectations and basically delivers...in its own unhealthy sort of way. 

Much like the very recent THE LAST STAND with Arnold Schwarzenegger, BULLET TO THE HEAD exists primarily as an excuse to resurrect its geriatric star that once was action film royalty and places him back in the milieu that he exploited to great effect in their prime.  To be fair, it’s a real primal and wickedly fun rush to see the – gasp! – 66-year-old Stallone (adorned in tattoos and almost unhealthily and unnaturally ripped and cut) taking proverbial names and kicking ass, even when his opponents are young enough to be his grandchildren.   Stallone’s line readings here, though, are as elephantine and laborious as ever, but the saving grace to his performance is how he elicits laughs out of the most macabre of moments.  It’s odd because he’s both stiff and mannered and kind of loose, droll, and sharp-witted at the same time.  

Yet, I just wished that BULLET TO THE HEAD had a bit of a better and more concisely told storyline to match its no-nonsense action.  Stallone plays a New Orleans hitman unfortunately named Jimmy Bobo, who finds himself losing a friend and partner (Jon Seda) in a violent bar altercation to a broody and hulking mystery man named Keegan (Jason Momoa of GAME OF THRONES and the last CONAN: THE BARBARIAN film) during the aftermath of a hit on a corrupt police officer.  Well, Sly’s aging and relentlessly vengeful killer does not take this lightly, so he engages in an initial one-man hunt for the perpetrators behind the hired killer.  Concurrent to this is the arrival in town of Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), who is looking into the murder of the same corrupt cop that Bobo and his partner took care of earlier. 

 

 

Because this is a mismatched buddy action film, it’s inevitable that Bobo and Kwan – as highly unlikely as it is – will become partners to dig deeper into the film’s increasingly murky plot that involves more corrupt police officers, despicably amoral lawyers, and, yes, a former African war criminal turned crooked real estate maverick (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) that wants to demolish some low income housing in New Orleans and erect his own little megalopolis of high cost luxury condos!  A few things are absolutely certain going forward: (1) Both cop and criminal will emerge as polar opposites during their mission and engage in much sarcastic banter downplaying the other and (2) Stallone and Momoa will unavoidably meet mano-a-mano in a testosterone-induced donnybrook involving axes.  Oh, and it also seems inevitable that Bobo will have an uber hot and semi-estranged daughter (Sarah Shahi) that, despite being a tattoo artist, has one-year of medical school under her belt, which will make it convenient for her to stitch up the heroes when required.  She also facilitates the film’s requirement for pure window-dressing and a kidnap victim later on. 

Again, the overall plotting here is atypically convoluted and preposterous as far as these types of genre films go.  The mad real estate baron, his nefarious plans, and how it relates to everyone else in the film is kind of sketchily developed and left me asking a few too many questions.  Moreover, the mismatched buddy film – which Hill knows impeccably because he helped define it with films like 48 HOURS – is built on the strength of its pair of mismatched buddies and their spirited interplay.  Stallone is a gruff and often unintelligible hoot as the relentlessly politically incorrect Bobo, who frequently hurls out racial slurs at his partner like they were going out of style (he refers to Kwon as “Oddjob” and “Confucius” at one point).  The problem is that Kang – who you may remember as a side-character in a few of the FAST AND FURIOUS films – can't really match the iconic stature of Stallone here.  Considering the great buddy action flicks of the past – with the likes of Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy and Danny Glover/Mel Gibson – Kang seems far too banal and straight-laced as a character to compelling work off of Stallone. 

Alas, BULLET TO THE HEAD gets by considerably on the mileage of its hyper-violent and take-no-prisoners action sequences, which are satisfyingly blood-splattered and many.  I especially liked a rather grisly confrontation that Bobo has with a slimy lawyer (played in a brief, but memorable cameo by Christian Slater), who hysterically informs Bobo - as he’s being threatened by him - that “There’s nothing you can do to me that I haven’t already done to myself for fun!”  Then there is the film’s pièce de résistance featuring the obligatory big climatic brawl between Stallone and Momoa (who’s got more devilish, wink-to-the-audience charm than most one-note henchmen in these kind of films) that starts off with the brute pointing a gun and Bobo, only to casually toss it away to grab a very conveniently placed axe.  Bobo amusingly deadpans a line that sort of deliriously acknowledges the audience’s own giddy incredulity during this crazy sequence: “What are we…fuckin’ Vikings?”

Nonetheless, it’s a rush to see both Rambo and Conan go head-to-head swinging axes at each other with reckless abandon.  BULLET TO HEAD is pure, unmitigated trash that seems time-warped back to 1985, which I guess is oddly both a compliment and a criticism.  Hill knows precisely what kind of film he’s helming (even if he sometimes films the action a bit spastically and in an annoying amount of tight close-ups) and Sly is definitely in his nostalgic comfort zone.  BULLET TO THE HEAD certainly will get fans of its star all riled up with anticipation and excitement; as far as these types of dumb, blunt, and machismo-infused auctioneers go, it mostly gets the job done.  If I had to chose, I would recommend the more cheekily self-aware and fun THE LAST STAND over this, the former which at least had fun at the expense of Au-nald’s advancing years.  In BULLET TO THE HEAD the more austere Stallone does not seem interested at all in admitting that he’s increasingly over the hill.  

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