Bullet to the Head, Review

You don't have to be a "young gun" to pull off a good action flick.

Warner Brothers Pictures
91 Mins. Directed By: Walter Hill with                                                                                   
Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang and Sarah Shahi

January is the month of comparing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to every other action film out there. While Arnie was off signing legislative bills, Stallone was still plucking away with resurrecting Rocky, Rambo and forming his superstar team of action hero elites. Though The Expendables films were rife with blood, bullets and blades, they were playing off a very specific genre stereotype. Playing off another one of those stereotypes, I expected Bullet to the Head to be just another stupid beat ’em up, with little to no redeeming value; and yes, the film is mighty shaky in so many ways, but it has three very important people who actually make this an interesting film; writer Alessando Camon, co-writer/director Walter Hill and Sylvester ” Muther Fuckin’ “Stallone.

Jimmy Bobo (Stallone) and Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda) are accomplished hit men for hire. Their current hit could have gone a bit smoother, but they would certainly say it went off without a hitch. That is until, instead of being met with a bag of money for their work, they are met by a knife wielding gargantuan who wants nothing more than to see these two thugs dead. Jimmy escapes with his life intact, but he’s soon met by Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) a Washington D. C. detective who’s in town to investigate the death of his former partner; who just happens to be the jerk-off Jimmy whacked to set this whole mess in motion. Kwon knows Bobo was responsible for the hit, but he also knows he was just a hired hand, so Kwon offers Jimmy a deal for the two to work together to uncover what is really going on. Initially turning Kwon down, Jimmy is practically forced to accept that the two need to work together, but Jimmy needs Kwon to understand that he makes the calls. Can this odd relationship of law and lawlessness work together without putting each other in the grave?

Bullet to the Head is based on a famous French graphic novel, Du Plomb Dans La Tete. Director Walter Hill does a bang up job of creating that comic book atmosphere, without really falling into the typical visual traps or even making it an obvious attempt at doing so, at all. Walter Hill is a legend, this is the man who brought you The Warriors, produced ever single Alien movie, breathed new life into modern Westerns and perfected the mismatched duo, comedy/drama genre with 48 Hours. He’s been away from the screen in the director’s chair for about 11 years, working more on T.V. projects like Deadwood and Broken Trail. If there’s one thing that Bullet to the Head proves, is that Hill has lost nothing in terms of his directorial eye and he has easily adapted to the grittier, darker style that dominates today’s action flicks. In the hands of a less accomplished director who is interested in style over everything else, Bullet to the Head would have gone straight into the trash can, piled under rotting banana peels and dirty diapers.

Now hold on, based on that last paragraph, you’d expect that I’m ready to give Bullet to the Head a four star review; unfortunately, the film’s story and most of the performances are still pretty lack luster and cliché. I think it’s time someone come up with something other than a politician’s shady real estate development plans as the evil impetus that leads to piles of dead bodies and a cadre of corrupt cops. So you’re probably saying, “Well Matthew, if the story is so bad, why did you commend writer Alessandro Camon in your opening?” Well, Camon doesn’t have a long list of credits behind his name yet, but he’s the man who wrote the very solemn 2009 Woody Harrelson drama, The Messenger. Does that give him a stay of execution, no; but the best parts of Bullet to the Head are not the fights and gun battles. The super magnetic aspects of Bullet to the Head are the scenes of witty banter between Jimmy and Kwon. I don’t know if most of the dialogue in those scenes can be qualified as one liners, but they deliver on all the goods you expect from a classic 80s action movie joke. This is the first time since Hill’s 48 Hours that I was excited to see the two leads get into a car together. I was more amped to know I was heading into a scene of pure dialogue than action between these two, because I knew I was going to be entertained by what comes out of their mouths, or should I say, Stallone’s mouth.

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Let’s get something straight, many people will hear Stallone’s name and they’ll instantly think of one thing–his voice. Too many people see Sly as a juiced up moron who’s only good for one thing, screaming while shooting a gun. For people who forget that Stallone wrote Rocky and First Blood (a film that is not really an action movie and contains one of the most shockingly gut wrenching final monologues) or for those who never really sat and watched Copland (a Stallone performance that is overlooked and should have garnered him an award); Stallone’s a smart guy who knows what he’s doing and boy does he really hit the mark here. There’s no doubt that it’s the combination of Hill and Stallone that make this film work, but without Stallone none of this works. Jimmy Bobo is an unsympathetic low-life, through and through. He has practically no redeeming values and is completely unapologetic about it. Sly sells it without making you fall in love with the character, yet still leaves you not hating his guts. That’s a tough card to play without rubbing people the wrong way, but he pulls it off. He also does wonders in delivering those cheeky lines that are actually funny, mainly due to his style and all-in attitude to the worthless piece of crap he’s playing.

Still, for all the praise I want to pour on Hill and Stallone, Bullet to the Head is as faulty as they come in many, most areas. Bullet to the Head is the perfect model of expecting the worst and being pleasantly surprised by the results, even though the combined pieces don’t hit it out of the park. Still, this is a great success for Walter Hill and Sylvester Stallone who both prove you don’t have to be the young gun to produce good work.

Dne of Geek Rating: 2.5 Out of 5 Stars