Bullet to the Head (2012) / Action-Thriller
MPAA rated: R for strong violence, bloody images, language, some drug use and brief drug use
Length: 92 min.
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi, Jason Momoa, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Christian Slater, Jon Seda, Holt McCallany, Brian Van Holt, Weronika Rosati
Director: Walter Hill
Screenplay: Alessandro Camon (based on the graphic novel, "Du plomb dans la tete" by Matz)
Review published February 26, 2013
Set in New Orleans, the premise of Bullet to the Head is that a hardened hitman, James "Jimmy Bobo" Bonomo (Stallone, The Expendables), and a goody-good cop must form an uneasy alliance in order to take down the people responsible for a double-crossing that leads to the killing of the hitman's longtime partner in crime, Louis, after they put out a hit on a crooked cop named Greely (McCallany, Gangster Squad). Jimmy Bobo is also targeted for assassination, which is why he aims to strike first. Meanwhile, NYPD detective Taylor Kwon (Kang, Fast Five) is in the area to fish out the suspects involved in his former partner Greely's hit, but wants to catch a bigger fish than Bobo, so the two follow the lead of clues that goes right into some pretty high rollers in Washington, as well as in the ranks of the local police. With no one to trust and nowhere else to go to hope to survive, the men ends of the law can only help each other to root out the men trying at all costs to keep the details under wraps, except one wants to do it within the law, while the other knows that's not the way to get stuff done.
Bullet to the Head is directed by veteran action flick helmer Walter Hill (Undisputed, Supernova), working from a script by Alessandro Camon (Madame T, The Messenger), an adaptation of the comic book by Matz (aka, Alexis Nolent). Hill directs with a good sense of visual style throughout, though the old-school director and old-school star deliver little beyond old-school thrills. Hill sticks fairly close to the formula that made him a successful action film director in the 1980s, as this film, at least in terms of its main premise, is reminiscent of 48 Hrs. in its pairing of cop and criminal in taking down some rather nasty, violent characters. The problem is that capturing lightning like the Nolte-Murphy chemistry is exceeding difficult to do twice, and the Stallone-Kang combo falls a good deal short of that in inspiring laughs or even modestly poignant moments between the action. However, derivative though it may be, Hill delivers decent action when the situation calls for it, and Stallone's take on the Jimmy Bobo character does produce some modest laughs through his take-no-crap demeanor.
The action is mostly the bare-knuckles kind, and along these lines, it delivers the goods you'd expect from a Stallone vehicle, complete with plenty of Hill's signature broken windows. The best scenes involve the main henchman, the statuesque, 6'4" Jason Momoa (Johnson Family Vacation, Conan the Barbarian), who stands a good deal taller than the others he squabbles mightily with, especially when confronting the 5'9" Stallone. The climax of the film is a absurd but still riveting axe battle between the two muscular men that will have the squeamish in the audience wincing throughout. It's not comparable to the modern martial-arts inspired choreography of todays films, but it is memorable nonetheless, much more so than the rest of the film ends up being. The beefy Stallone does a nice job keeping the action up despite his age (Stallone was 65 at the time of principal shooting), though his face is looking more plastic than ever, and his hair looks unnaturally glued on.
While Bullet to the Head isn't a comedy in the way 48 Hrs. had been much of the time, there are still elements of the racial humor between the two parties, as the Jimmy Bobo character keeps associating his Korean counterpart with Chinese or Japanese-related icons. Though it is somewhat redundant in this way, it is tempered by the exasperated reactions by Kwan, who grows to know all too well that a guy like Jimmy Bobo is never going to learn, which becomes a main theme in their relationship. Sung Kang doesn't exactly ignite the screen with charisma, though he is likeable enough, yet one can only wonder just how an NYPD detective could be so naive as to entrust his every move to a New Orleans police department he already knows to be full of bad apples.
If you like your action R-rated and are looking for a throwback film to the heydays of the music video-inspired violence of the 1980s, there's no shame in the indulgence that is Bullet to the Head. However, anyone looking for something they haven't seen before, and better, should stick to the original films from which Hill and Stallone draw inspiration.
©2013 Vince Leo