Closing out an amazingly productive January, BULLET TO THE HEAD is a typical but enjoyable 80's/90's action flick.
As we close out the month of January, one cannot help but remark upon the many quality releases that have graced what's usually a terrible month for films. Whether it was Gangster Squad, Broken City, or Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, January has provided us with a surprisingly diverse and enjoyable list of new releases. Among them is the Sylvester Stallone action flick Bullet to the Head, a brainless but enjoyable action flick that's his best in a long time.
Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone, Expendables series) is a former soldier turned hitman who's never known life outside of killing and jail time. When his partner (Jon Seda) is sliced up by the deadly hitman Keegan (Jason Momoa, Stargate: Atlantis), Bobo joins forces with Washington DC cop Sung Kwon (Sung Kang, 2 Fast 2 Furious) who's also looking for the killer of his partner. Their unlikely alliance immediately nets all sorts of one-liners about Kwon's Korean background and Jimmy's old school ways of doing things. Soon they not only discover that their mutual suspect is Keegan, but that he's the strong arm for a deep conspiracy lead by two New Orleans sleazeballs, Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Bourne Identity) and Baptiste (Christian Slater, Broken Arrow). They intend to buy entire sections of post-Katrina real estate on the cheap by bribing officials and police officers, while eliminating anyone who might stand in their way. As Bobo and Keegan edge closer to a final battle, Kwon must choose his loyalties in this ever-shifting landscape of lies and violence for those who don't fall into line.
Director Walter Hill (48 Hours) creates a gritty, believable world of violence and organized mayhem that compliments Stallone's characteristic mumbling and constant scowling. Yet, Stallone is clearly in control of every scene, as if the world still revolved around this aging hero. The result feels like something from 1989, when Tango and Cash helped to re-create the classic buddy film. Along with Hill's expert eye, Editor Timothy Alverson (Con Air) constructs several excellent 'dossier' segments - as Kwon uses his DC connections to track down Keegan and crew - while ending the film with a memorable slo-mo fight scene.
But make no mistake: there's not much more to Writer Alessandro Camon's flimsy conspiracy set up, which is fine considering the fun he conjures up after all the cards are laid out. From the obligatory car chases, interrogations gone wrong, and blown up safe houses, Camon (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call) and Hill effectively throw just about every classic ingredient into the stew. Composer Steve Mazzaro (along with TDKR-man Hans Zimmer) forges a rock soundtrack that compliments the gritty New Orleans setting. Making a film better suited for the 90's can bring all sorts of potential problems to the surface, and several do bubble up here, including the whimpy performance of Kang and the B-grade acting of Stallone's surrogate daughter as well as the two dirty New Orleans cops. On the other hand, the badass Momoa demonstrates why he needs to be in every action flick - his physical presence fits perfectly against Stallone's anti-hero persona; and he commands the room every time Hill presents him. Hopefully, better roles will come his way, as I believe he's the future of action films. For now, Bullet is a fun ride, using most of the performances as little more than excuses for target practice and big-budget action set pieces, which is really what every film of the genre should seek to achieve.
Bullet to the Head could quietly disappear once February rolls around, but I hope audiences don't automatically write it off. Does it redefine the action genre? Not really. Does it complete a typical 80's/90's action film checklist? Absolutely. Moreover, it proves that Stallone can still create watchable action fare without struggling to utter lines or look tired along the way (see: Old Man Arnold). For that fact alone, Bullet is worth an afternoon matinee with the dudes or perhaps as part of a man date involving the consumption of cooked meats. Believe me, you'll feel more like a man after catching this surprising flick. Bullet to the Head is rated R for nudity, language, and gun violence and has a runtime of 88 minutes.
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