A film review by Craig J. Koban February 12, 2013
BULLET TO THE HEAD
2013, R, 93 mins.
2013, R, 93 mins.
Kwon: Sung Kang /
Slater / Morel: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje /
Keegan: Jason Momoa /
Lisa: Sarah Shahi
Gotta give it this film: there is no false advertising here, folks.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.