‘Bullet to the Head’ Misses The Mark
Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 3, 2013 18:02
For whatever reason, the old-man action movie is a prolific subgenre in Hollywood. Typically, such a movie will feature plotlines about characters coming out of retirement, lots of jokes about the stars’ age (and how they’re “too old for this s—t”), and a thrilling finale in which our heroes dispense a much younger villain thanks to their age-worn experience. Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, and Bruce Willis have all had their shot at this formula, and just two weeks ago Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reappearance as a border-town sheriff in The Last Stand counted as another entry. But surely no one in Hollywood is so caught up in the genre as Sylvester Stallone. From his sixth outing as Rocky Balboa in 2006, to his reprisal of Rambo in 2008, to his franchise pet project The Expendables, Stallone seems intent on convincing audiences that he can be an action star well into his late 60s.
Arriving in the doldrums of early February as another exhibit is Bullet to the Head, a decidedly old-fashioned action film that might as well have been released in the mid-’80s. Stallone stars as Jimmy “BoBo” Bonomo, a veteran hit-man who makes an uneasy alliance with a Korean-American detective (Sung Kang) after both men are set up and betrayed by the same people. As the two unlikely partners navigate the corrupt, crime-ridden ranks of New Orleans, they begin to expose a conspiracy reaching up to the highest levels of government. Really, though, this plot is just an excuse to create various situations in which Sylvester Stallone pumps bullets into people’s heads.
There is something agreeably simplistic about Bullet to the Head. This is a movie with no pretensions, hitting all the requisite action movie cliches without aspiring to anything beyond them. For a while, it’s fun enough, especially in the hands of Walter Hill, who since the mid-’70s has made his name as a director of violent, well-crafted thrillers. The opening scenes have some stylistic panache—with Stallone doing a voiceover that recalls the classics of film noir, a black-and-white flash-forward that sets up an intriguing premise (the cop-hitman alliance), and an effective soundtrack that nicely accents the film’s alternating scenes of smooth criminals cruising around town, shady backdoor scheming, and bloody hits carried out by Stallone.
But Bullet to the Head has very few surprises up its sleeve, and the formula soon grows tired. The grisly violence established in the opening scenes loses its shock value about the fifth time that Jimmy suddenly ends a confrontation by shooting someone in the head. Stallone spends the movie doing his usual silent tough-guy shtick, and though the movie is occasionally enlivened by the amusing sparring between Jimmy and Taylor, the dialogue is not exactly what you would call witty. (A choice example: “Guns don’t kill people—bullets kill people!”)
The movie tries to inject some human interest amid all the carnage with a plot thread involving Jimmy’s daughter Lisa (Sarah Shahi), who in the final confrontation is held as a hostage in the most classic of action movie showdown locations, an abandoned warehouse. Thankfully, this climax is more interesting than the dull mayhem that precedes it, ending with an axe fight between Stallone and the hulking heavy Keegan (Jason Momoa). Of course, it’s sheer ridiculousness that these two enemies would toss aside their guns to duke it out medieval-style. But it’s a fun scene that is just ridiculous enough to work.
Bullet to the Head, unfortunately, doesn’t offer enough over-the-top action moments like that. Too much of the movie is taken up with a tiresome succession of interchangeable gun deaths, and an exposition that doesn’t really go anywhere. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have its occasional genre pleasures, but it’s certainly not worth going out of your way to see. Bullet to the Head is the kind of movie best enjoyed on a lazy summer afternoon on cable, when you’re craving something about as blunt and mind-killing as, well, a bullet to the head.