Title: Bullet to the Head
Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller
Director(s): Walter Hill
Release Year: 2013
Rotten Tomatoes: 49%
Not to be outdone by Schwarzenegger and the recent theatrical release of The Last Stand, Sylvester Stallone has brought out his own action vehicle to try and compete with the testosterone-fueled film. Not only that, but he brought Walter Hill out of retirement to direct Bullet to the Head, his first film in 10 years. Sounds like a great combination on paper, right? Turn this into a film hellbent on delivering the best action and an undercurrent of grit, and you have a really great B-movie here. Put comedic undertones to confuse those dark, noir currents and you can understand why this movie never lives up to the potential it had. Based on the graphic novel Du Plomb dans la Tête, the movie handles action very well, but as little as possible, and tries to work in a depth to its crime story which feels jarring once both elements have been presented together. Needless to say, Bullet to the Head feels more confused than anything, but has its moments where it shows massive potential to be a crime drama of merit as opposed to the mediocre film it is.
The least important thing when going into Bullet to the Head for me, was the plot. That being said, this is a movie that definitely tries to have a more complex story, and has one unique aspect that if explored properly could have made the movie a little better. Sung Kang plays Taylor Kwon, a detective from Washington sent to investigate the murder of his former partner in New Orleans. Having a common enemy with James Bonomo (Stallone), a hitman, the two work together to find and avenge their partners’ deaths. The catch here is that Kwon intends to still arrest ‘Jimmy Bobo’ (the ridiculous nickname of Bonomo) after they arrest their target. What could have played out was an internal dilemma within Kwon, determining whether to arrest Jimmy or let him stay free, but instead the movie just has him continually readdress Jimmy telling him he will still be arrested, until he realizes that Jimmy will probably kill him if he tries to bring him in. So the detective ignores his duty to keep his own self alive. On top of that, Bonomo spews unnecessary racism left and right in pointless banter that adds nothing except that Jimmy is a racist, something we could have gotten out of one line of dialogue.
A random romance also kind of rears its head, between Bonomo’s daughter (Sarah Shahi) and Kwon, but it is essentially only used for some comedic relief as Jimmy threatens to kill Kwon a couple times if he even thinks about having a relationship with his daughter. Once this predictable plot threw itself into the mix, I knew what I was dealing with. The movie tries to drive home a noir-ish feel at times, and then other times it tries to be a fun, witty film. The movie blends these elements fairly well, but it’s clear that no one knew which style was going to be the driving feel of the film. In fact, there’s a lot of elements in Bullet to the Head that feel like they could have gone to some interesting places, and set pieces that would have been memorable if handled properly. Unfortunately, nothing is realized to its fullest potential, instead being squandered with a confused sense of direction by Walter Hill.
That’s the major gripe here with Bullet to the Head. If it is supposed to feel like an action film, as opposed to a crime drama, it definitely doesn’t deliver except in two distinct scenes that are spread very far apart. It becomes obvious how little action is the main priority here, but rather that the movie wants to represent some sort of parallel between the criminal underworld and the justice system. It’s trying to be taken serious, but the moment you have Christian Slater as a millionaire playboy throwing Eyes Wide Shut parties, and Jason Momoa as a ruthless ex-Special Forces operative who will kill anyone regardless of their importance, is about when you should stop caring about being ‘gritty’ and ‘dramatic’. Fortunately, the final fight scene between Stallone and Momoa is satisfying, but doesn’t justify the 80 minutes of build-up that lead you to two men fighting like vikings. Stallone feels most like an action star when doing these close-counter fight scenes, not only looking the part but also just having the presence necessary to feel like he could hold his own despite his age.
If the film just avoided its unnecessary racism, random hints at a relationship forming between Sarah Shahi’s character and Kang’s, and turning everyone into a caricature, the movie may have been able to avoid being the mediocre mess that it is. It has a cast that screams B-movie, but for some odd reason doesn’t recognize how B-movie it is. Instead it tries to be the next great crime drama, littered with half-boiled attempts at depth and spending too little time on the reason we all want to see a Stallone movie: the action. Some of the dialogue is fun, the few action scenes that are there aren’t bad, and the vibe the film presents sets up for a great crime drama. Unfortunately, that vibe is jarring with the dialogue and action presented. An axe fight between two musclebound actors is the stuff that’s expected from an over-the-top action film, but not from a gritty crime film set in the underbelly of New Orleans. Bullet to the Head isn’t a bad movie, but it needs a lot more work to be a good one, and for that reason, you should just go see The Last Stand while it’s still in theaters instead.
Overall: Not Recommended