Bullet to the Head

2013 - 92 minutes

Rated: R

Directed by: Walter Hill

Written by: Alessandro Camon

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Jason Momoa, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Christian Slater, Sarah Shahi

It’s a post-Expendables world, and the two action icons that teamed up for the cinematic novelty have each tested their solo viability in the last few weeks. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Last Stand is overall a more enjoyable movie than Bullet to the Head, but Sylvester Stallone proves he’s a more serviceable standalone hero. Of course he’s now the grizzled old-timer character, which henceforth will always have to be addressed in any genre narrative, and he’s effective in that role. It’s the script and source material that lets him, and director Walter Hill, down.

Stallone plays veteran hitman Jimmy Bobo, who, along with his partner, takes out a rogue cop with information on shady businessman Robert Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). In the first of many double-crosses, Morel sends the hulking Keegan (Jason Momoa) to hit the hitmen, but Jimmy escapes execution. Investigating the first murder is D.C. Detective Kwon (Sung Kang), who finds resistance from local Louisiana law enforcement and an unlikely ally in Jimmy. Both men are looking to topple Morel’s network – Kwon in a search for justice and Jimmy on a mission of revenge and self-preservation.

Hill is no stranger to macho quests or odd couple team-ups, having directed The Long Riders, The Warriors and two 48 Hrs. movies.  Many of the raw materials of a Walter Hill production are on full display in his first feature since 2002’s Undisputed:  hardened manly men on a mission, underworld codes of conduct, brutal hand-to-hand combat, targeted bursts of gunfire, and even a jazzy score that fits the New Orleans setting.

What’s missing is coherence to the carnage and the chemistry between the two leads. Kang appears a little too naïve to be a big city detective, easily dominated by the alpha personality of Bobo/Stallone. There’s never tension between the duo because we know Stallone will always win out, and there’s not a lot of room for buddy comedy because of the structure of the script. There’s a perfunctory approach to the narrative that barrels from one reveal to the next, treating the plot like a labyrinthine journey, never allowing for brevity or wit to seep in.

Akinnuoye-Agbaje and a dirty lawyer played by Christian Slater exist only to discuss their plans when the audience needs to be given information. They don’t really do much and their motivation to cover up their corruption is taken way too seriously and is way more complicated than necessary. There’s potential in the showdown between Stallone and Momoa, and while their climactic axe battle is goofy inspired fun, their characters aren’t freed from the constraints of the plot long enough to build real personality.

Based on a French graphic novel, the script from Alessandro Camon is choppy and episodic, more interested in the routine than the rollick. For instance, Bobo’s estranged daughter Lisa (Sarah Shahi) is introduced early, only to be forgotten until the boys need to borrow her computer, or until she needs to be put in peril for extra motivation in the third act.

Hill shows he can still choreograph some fun, pulpy mayhem, and Stallone still packs a punch, but Bullet to the Head is mostly mind-numbing procedure.

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