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Bullet to the Head (2013)

February 13, 2013

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written by: Walter Hill and Alessandro Camon

produced by: Alfred Gough, Alexandra Milchan, Miles Millar, Joel Silver

& Kevin King Templeton

directed by: Walter Hill

rating: R (for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use)

runtime: 91 min.

U.S. release date: February 1, 2013

 

Throughout his career, Sylvester Stallone has applied an uncanny tenacity when it comes to his movie career. He’s definitely taken some hits, but he’s also been able to get back on his feet repeatedly. Stallone’s most recent resurgence started when he brought his two iconic characters back to the big-screen, with the poignant “Rocky Balboa” and the excessively violent “Rambo“, both followed by the testosterone team-up of the two “Expendables” movies. While those three were written and directed by Stallone, his latest, “Bullet to the Head” is helmed by Walter Hill (“Streets of Fire” and “48 Hrs.”) a director known for his own brand of manly movies. Both veterans aren’t offering anything original in this actioner, with its expected amount of  machismo, it’s just too bad it winds up lacking.

Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone) is an old-school hitman working in New Orleans with his partner Louis (Jon Seda), taking the right jobs for the right price. After the two kill their target one night, who turns out to be an out-of-control scumbag cop (Holt McCallany), Louis is suddenly offed by a hulking enforcer named Keegan (Jason Mamoa, “Conan the Barbarian”), leaving Bobo to escape and regroup to avenge his buddy’s death. Enter Washington D.C. Detective Kwon (Sung Kang. “Fast Five”) who’s looking for his own answers to that initial hit. Kwon doesn’t find much help from the local authorities though, so he winds up tracking down Bobo and proposes that the two work together to bring down Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, phoning in a one-note performance), the crime lord involved in the death of Louis and much more.

As they work to disrupt Morel’s criminal operation, the unlikely duo’s methods clash. Kwon is determined to bring everyone they encounter in, relying on his smart phone savvy, while Bobo is more interested in putting them down, trusting his modus operandi of lethal blows and remote-controlled explosions. But then another clichéd plot device hits us when Bobo’s estranged daughter, Lisa (Sara Shahi) is apprehended by the bad guys, forced into the mess in order to lure her hitman dad. With the stakes becoming more personal for Bobo and an inevitable showdown with Keegan, Kwan must determine whether or not to help Bobo or bring him to justice.

 

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Meanwhile, the audience must determine whether or not to kick back and find something to enjoy in this sloppily regurgitated retro-wanna-be action flick. The answer to that is “yes” – if you’re an unabashed fan of Stallone, like myself. The answer is “no” – if you can’t stand the guy.

With his noticeably worn down and over-worked stone face, the actor has become a curious study on-screen. It may seem ridiculous to some that Stallone is still playing characters like this, but there’s something respectable about knowing your limitations. What other kind of role is the guy going to take?

Since I’m not adverse to “mature” action stars turning their back on retirement, I can’t say I have any problem with Stallone still going strong. If only someone would steer him toward some worthy material. The “Expendables” movies were fun because of the concept, but each one had grievous story flaws. Understandable, since all we’re going for are the fights and explosions, but “Bullet to the Head” could’ve offered more. Perhaps an interesting character study of a killer living by a delusional code of honor, whose distanced himself from anyone, living a pathetic life in his twilight years. Come to think of it, that’s pretty clichéd as well.

“Bullet to the Head” is Hill going for an 80s throwback (something that Stallone has relied on lately) and is named after the French graphic novel it’s based on. That makes sense seeing as how most European noir comics are grittier. While screenwriter Alessandro Camon (“The Messenger”), co-writing with Hill, injects the story with some twists, it’s just not enough to offer anything unique to the pulpy genre. It’s bad enough that Stallone and Kang lack chemistry (something absolutely essential in a buddy team-up), but the dialogue these two have, especially Kang’s Kwon, is weak. Stallone fares better with his long-mouthed garbled narration, but the back and forth between the two, from Bobo’s incessant racial quips to Kwon’s old man jokes becomes lazy and tiring. Sure, no one is expecting noteworthy dialogue here, but it’s easy to see where the movie could take a turn for the better, especially when you consider its directed by the guy who basically created the mold for the buddy action flick.

 

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At one point, there may have been hope for this movie. Possibly. Wayne Kramer, the guy who made “The Cooler” and “Running Scared”, was attached to direct (under the working title “Headshot”) with Thomas Jane signed to co-star. But Stallone backed out when he learned it was going to be darker than he wanted. Apparently, he didn’t realize this film could’ve benefitted from more realistic grit and less attempts at comedic banter between the two mismatched leads. More fingers could be pointed to the other filmmakers involved though. Someone thought that producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (who co-created the successful television series “Smallville” and co-writers of the not-so-successful “I Am Number Four”) would be well-suited to oversee this adaptation. Well, they were not. You’d think Joel Silver would know better, but with this many producers, who knows how involved he was.

The curious draw of “Bullet to the Head” was learning that Hill, who hasn’t made a feature film since 2002‘s “Undisputed”, was directing. He’s been involved in producing recent films, like last year’s “Prometheus”, but it’s been a while since he’s actually helmed a film. The 71 year-old filmmaker is known for these uncanny team-ups (besides the two “48 Hrs” movies, he also gave us James Belushi and Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Red Heat”), so the material could’ve been in good hands, if the script tried to go beyond the typical conventions of the genre. Hill doesn’t even offer anything distinctive in his directing choices here. He’s too busy transitioning from scene to scene with obnoxious bluesy harmonicas. Maybe Hill and Camon chose the wrong decade to evoke and instead should’ve paid homage to the manly films of the 70s. I can’t see Stallone ever signing up for something along the lines of Hill’s “The Driver” (or Nicholas Wending Refn’s “Drive”, for that matter) anyway.

It’s also too bad this movie isn’t better for Christian Slater. He plays a sleazy lawyer working with Morel, who eventually winds up being one of many who earn the movie’s titular demise. It’s his first role in a theatrical release since the abysmal “Alone in the Dark” in 2005. Where does he go from here? Later this year, he’ll show up in Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac”, so, that’s bound to be something different for the actor.

“Bullet to the Head” delivers what it promises and nothing more or better. You’ll be treated to a crazy Rambo vs. Conan axe fight, an odd scene where Stallone crashes a costume party and a whole lotta tattoos. Three memorable elements I walked away with that are worthy of a matinée, nothing more.

 

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RATING: **

 

 

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