We review Bullet To The Head – Meat headed action film, stuck in its old ways

5 min read
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Bullet to the Head, the latest salvo in Sylvester Stallone’s one-man crusade to put the “men” back in entertainment, opens up with a giant CGI bullet fired towards the screen, loudly breaking through the logos of various companies that he and director Walter Hill convinced to give them their money, before eventually, and presumably, burying itself in the viewer’s head.

It’s a sequence that is certainly ear- and eye-catching, but also a bit dumb and clumsy at the same time. Much like the rest of the movie, in fact.

Based on a French graphic novel, Bullet to the Head tells the tale of New Orleans hitman Jimmy Bobo (Stallone), who after getting hired to take out a corrupt policeman, gets double-crossed – to fatal effect for his partner – by some shady ne’er-do-wells (Christian Slater and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) trying to cover up all traces to their black hat business. Bobo does not take too kindly to this.

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Meanwhile, it turns out that Corrupt Policeman #1 used to be the partner of Washington D.C. Detective Taylor Kwan (Sung Kang), who rolls into town trying to figure to out why his partner went so far off the reservation that it ended in his death in a New Orleans hotel room. Soon the mismatched duo of criminal Bobo and lawman Kwan are reluctantly partnering up to get to the bottom of it all, but there’s a Dothraki mercenary by the name of Keegan (Jason Momoa) standing in their way, looking to introduce their livers to the business end of a gutting knife.

While that plot does have a certain “there’s nothing else left on the shelf at Mr Video so I’ll just rent this” vibe to it, the fact that a recently resurging action man Stallone is headlining and will be going toe to toe with everybody’s favourite horse worshipping barbarian from Game of Thrones, does give it a bit of a PR boost. Add that to the fact that veteran director Walter Hill, the guy responsible for one of the best ever mismatched duo action thrillers, 48 Hours, is directing and co-wrote it, and it certainly looks good on paper. But just like that paper, Bullet to the Head is rather flat. 

Now I certainly wasn’t expecting deep characters and layered storytelling from a Stallone movie called Bullet to the Head, but what I was looking forward to was some dumb fun. Well, I guess one adjective out of two is not that bad.

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The first problem, (besides how the bumbling script tries to justify the film’s silly name with a clumsy tie-in to the lead character’s preferred poison, Bullet Whiskey) is that Hill’s pacing is quite lackadaisical for huge swaths of the movie. Its not as if there’s nothing happening on screen, it’s just all presented in this rather flat, monotone way that harks back to the type of B-grade 1990’s action movies Lorenzo Lamas used to star in.

And while the banter between Bobo and Kwan – which you would hope would spice up the monotony – certainly comes through thick and fast, it all feels… off and not quite as entertaining as it should be. I never expected much from Kang (and didn’t get much more), who at this point in his career is still merely “that Asian guy from Fast & Furious“, but Stallone has proven previously that he still has quite a bit of on-screen charisma left in that tight leather bag filled with bricks that he calls a body. Except that this is definitely not the movie where he shows that off. He mumble-rumbles through his supposedly funny lines, while his toothless tough guy posturing will have your eyes rolling back far enough to see your own spine.

The villains fare far better though: Akinnuoye-Agbaje chews scenery in wide-eyed glee, Momoa doesn’t say much but broods with the best of them, and it’s great to see Christian Slater strutting his stuff in a movie again. They just don’t have all that much to work with as Hill and co-writer Alessandro Camon’s script is essentially just a collection of tough guy grunts and tired cliches, sluggishly moving around wafer thin characters from one set piece to another.

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That’s not to say that Bullet To The Head is without merit, as Hill definitely still knows how to stage and shoot an action sequence. The highlight for many viewers, based on pure ingenuity, will easily be the film’s climactic battle between Bobo and Keegan advertised so prominently in all the trailers. Because outside of documentaries about vikings on the History Channel (and perhaps Friday nights on the Cape Flats) when was the last time you saw two men engaged in an axe melee battle?

But for me it was a grueling mid-movie steam room brawl between a merely towel-covered Stallone and Cougar Town‘s Brian Van Holt that stole the show. The unflinching, no holds barred fight should instantly remind you of Viggo Mortensen’s stellar scrap in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promise, only with much less visible scrotum. That doesn’t mean it didn’t have balls though.

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Sadly though, the same cannot be said for the movie overall. A handful of well executed action beats and some villains clearly having a bit of fun are just not enough to rescue this one from just being meh. Its probably best to rather wait for it’s inevitable Sunday night movie slot on M-Net.

Last Updated: May 17, 2013

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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