Film Review – Bullet To The Head
I keep thinking to myself that Sylvester Stallone is an underrated actor. Remember, he was nominated for an acting Oscar—granted, it was 1977 and he was still up-and-coming when he played the title role in Rocky. The point still stands. If Stallone is inspired, he is capable of giving good performances. First Blood (1982) and Cop Land (1997) are two prime examples. But every good outing comes between a handful of bad ones. His latest work, Bullet to the Head, isn’t helping his case. Mere weeks after Arnold Schwarzenegger came back on the action scene, Stallone takes his turn to tackle the genre yet again. Unfortunately, we are given a lifeless story with a lead performance that barely registers any kind of active participation.
Stallone has done these films so often that he can do them in his sleep, and he kind of does here. He plays his character—the awkwardly named Jimmy “Bobo” Bonomo—as so lackadaisical that I began wondering if he would doze off in the middle of a scene. I understand what we’re supposed to get. Jimmy is a New Orleans hit man. He’s seen it all and done it all; nothing can possibly faze him anymore. He takes out his targets with precise skill, and is prepared for any double cross that may happen. Imagine being paranoid enough to set up bombs around your house just in case enemies tried to ambush you. That’s part of the daily life for our good friend Jimmy Bobo. One thing is certain: he is not a good guy. He willingly kills people standing in his way, and will shoot someone point blank in the face regardless of whether he gets the information he needs or not. Can we say “sociopath,” anyone?
After a routine night of hit-manning, Jimmy gets attacked in a bar, with his partner Louis (Jon Seda) ending up dead. This doesn’t sit well with Jimmy, and he immediately sets his sights on those responsible. Meanwhile, on the other side of the law, there is Washington D.C. officer Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), whose own partner was killed the very same night, with Jimmy being tied to the crime. Two murders of two partners happening just hours from each other? Talk about symmetry! And thus we are presented with the buddy cop/criminal dynamic, with Taylor stuck between taking Jimmy down or joining forces to fight a common (and even bigger) enemy.
Let’s start off with the good. First, Stallone still looks like he is capable of delivering in terms of action. Where most aging action stars noticeably slow down, he has kept a steady pace. He can mix it up, and the highlighted fight scene in a bathhouse shows he’s still a force to be reckoned with. It was refreshing to see Asian-American actor Sung Kang play a role where he’s not a martial arts expert or driving modified import cars. He’s charismatic on screen, and I hope this is a steppingstone toward meatier parts. Stallone and Kang have an odd chemistry, but I bought into it. I found it amusing when they started playing on each other’s ethnic stereotypes. If they can’t laugh at themselves, who can? And lastly, Jason Momoa is convincing as the intimidating villain Keegan. He is a man of few words, but of fierce and brutal violence. His characterization isn’t enough to be memorable, but it was serviceable.
And now the bad. The screenplay (written by Alessandro Camon, adapted from graphic novel by Alexis Nolent) provides little to no forward momentum. There is no enthusiasm in the narrative; they seem to plod along with no energy. The story is unnecessarily complex, involving high-end criminals and police corruption. We have three separate villains: the weasel Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater, what are you doing here?), the rich criminal with a cane Robert Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and the hired muscle in Keegan. How these three are supposed to be connected is anyone’s guess. And for how complicated the lines of criminality go, the third act drops it all, settling on a mundane hostage situation involving Jimmy’s daughter, Lola (Weronika Rosati). Action scenes are short and lack creativity. Not only that, but the characters have little continuity in terms of the action. Both Jimmy and Keegan would shoot each other on sight, but for some reason the climactic battle has them dropping their guns and choosing to swing axes at each other. The metaphor is obvious—you can almost hear them say, “My axe is bigger than yours!”
Bullet to the Head feels like a half-hearted attempt to capture old glory. Its director, Walter Hill, is the same guy who made a name for himself in the late ’70s and early ’80s with work like The Warriors (1979) and 48 Hrs. (1982). But like his leading star, Hill directs the movie as if every ounce of inspiration was set to neutral. This was an homage to action movies from the 1980s that didn’t do anything to update itself for a modern audience.
Final Grade: C-