Review: 'Bullet to the Head' Just Gets the Job Done, No More, No Less
by Jeremy Kirk
February 1, 2013
The '80s were a great time for unabashed action movies. Bullets flying left and right. Partners getting killed and the vengeance that ensues when our hero takes the law into his own hands. People from different sides of the tracks teaming up for the common good of taking out the real bad guys. Old schoolers Walter Hill and Sylvester Stallone remember this time well - fondly, I would guess - and attempt to bring it back with a bang in Bullet to the Head, Hill's first directorial effort since 2002. He's barely lost a step, and Bullet to the Head, jumbled as it is, ends up serving as a suitable return to the age of shameless action. More below!
Stallone plays Jimmy Bobo, an aged hitman in New Orleans satisfied with hitting his marks and collecting the dough the ensues. After he and his partner, played by Jon Seda, are set up by their latest employer, the partner is left dead and Bobo's thirst for revenge against the men responsible sets off a chain of violent events. Enter Taylor Kwon, played by The Fast and the Furious favorite Sung Kang, a by-the-book Washington DC cop who comes to The Big Easy in search of his own partners' killers, that being Bobo and his partner. Soon enough, lawbreaker and law enforcer team up for the greater good and set out to hunt down and take out - or take in if Kwon has anything to say about it - the dirtier players in town.
Bullet to the Head is written by Alessandro Camon from a French graphic novel by Alexis Nolent, and while it remains to be seen how faithful the film is to the source material, there's no question the film never even strives for originality. The action setups and payoffs. The butting of heads between Bobo and Kwon. The assortment of villains big and small that all end up going down once a bullet enters their respective heads. None of it feels fresh or new, and Hill is left to rev up the film's engine on the action to create even a blip on the excitement radar. This he does rather well, really.
Hill has always been an interesting director, jumping on the scene in the later '70s/early '80s with such action fare as The Driver and The Warriors. The director, along with Steven E. de Souza, essentially created the buddy action comedy with 1982's 48 Hours and all the tropes that go along with the sub-genre. De Souza, nor any of the other screenwriters who worked on that film, are back for Bullet to the Head, but that doesn't slow Hill down. He takes those tropes and throws them on the screen without a care, not trying for any kind of commentary on action films but simply relying on what's worked before to tell his story. For the most part he pulls it all off well.
The action in Bullet to the Head is never on a blockbuster scale, mostly resorting to lots of gun violence and the occasional explosion of varying size. For what it is, it's satisfyingly entertaining, and getting past the cliche-ridden barrier isn't all that difficult when Bobo and Kwon start taking bad guys out hard and heavy. Movie logic abounds and by the time Bobo's daughter shows up for the sole purpose of becoming a damsel in distress, a more cynical viewer might be ready to head for the door. For the rest of us, though, those of us who appreciate a little cheese with our blood and guts, the ride Bullet to the Head has to offer is a fun one at the very least.
The violence flies around the screen, many bullets entering many heads, and as fun as all of that is, the comedy side of things never quite finds its footing. The witty banter between Jack Cates and Reggie Hammond from 48 Hours - witty is such a relative term here - has devolved with Stallone and Kang. Nine times out of ten the dialogue resorts to Bobo being racist against the Korean Kwon, calling him Confucius or bringing up the Samurai way. One is Chinese, the other is Japanese. Kwon, and Kang, is never allowed the upper hand in these "lively" conversations and usually sits in the passenger seat sulking about how and when he'll bring Bobo in. It's not Kang's fault. He just isn't given much to do here. It's no wonder Stallone gets sole credit above the title, and Bullet to the Head at times feels more like a lone, anti-hero actioner than a buddy action movie.
Stallone mumbles like only he can. Kang does his best with what he's got. Even Christian Slater, God love him, delivers as a sleazy lawyer and money man for the bad guys. As with most action movies, Bullet to the Head has a colorful character in its head villain, that being Jason Momoa as a mercenary doing the dirty work for his nefarious employers. Momoa has loads of charisma, and it's fortunate that he's able to bring this out as the film's antagonist. The man is a beast, all the more muscle to make his final ax battle with Stallone a whopper of a sequence, but it's his character's earlier moments, when he's doing all that dirty work, that almost makes him a third lead here. It's rare that an actor is able to show off his action star chops playing the villain, but Momoa, with an assist by Mr. Hill, does just that.
Bullet to the Head is nothing new. Any notion of originality gets blown out the back along with all the brain matter, and with movies like The Last Stand and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters vying for your action dollar, it needs something extra to win out against them. Bullet to the Head never quite does that, but its unapologetic, brazen, and very R-rated sensibilities make it so much more entertaining than the action we've gotten in recent years. It even manages to top Stallone's own Expendables movies in terms of sheer entertainment value, and for fans of the action world of the '80s, that's good enough.
Jeremy's Rating: 7 out of 10