Bullet to the Head
Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Christian Slater, Jason Momoa
(Warner Bros; US theatrical: 1 Feb 2013 (General release); UK theatrical: 1 Feb 2013 (General release); 2013)
2013 may go down in cinematic history as the year two massive—and we do mean, MASSIVE—‘80s action stars tried to jumpstart their individual superstar status with so-called ‘returns to form.’ In one corner was former Governor of California and TMZ tabloid fodder Arnold Schwarzenegger. His filmic appeal for A-list relevance, the fun firepower throwback, The Last Stand, elicited a relative whimper from mainstream moviegoers. The release is still looking for Junior like b.o. numbers several weeks after release. Then there was/is Sylvester Stallone. Reinstating his believed bankability with the all-star send-up The Expendables, he’s now trying to go it alone with the Walter Hill helmed Bullet to the Head. Unfortunately, you’ll want to take the title literally after wallowing through this waste of time and talent.
Based on a famous French graphic novel, Sly plays Jimmy Bobo, a New Orleans hitman with a specific code of honor. When he and his partner are double crossed, he goes after the big bosses who ordered the job. Teaming up with an Asian cop (Sung Kang) from Washington, DC, the entire case seems to revolve around a disgraced detective, a file full of evidence involving bribes and local officials on the take, and a West African expatriate (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) real estate swindler who is apparently ready to remake parts of the Crescent City in his own onerous image. After pressuring the bad guy’s lawyer (Christian Slater) and facing off with his murderous hired muscle (Jason Momoa), Bobo still can’t see the connections. One flash drive, and a threat to his distant, tattoo artist daughter (Sarah Shahi) later, and our assassin has all the fuel he needs for a bit of bad-ass revenge.
When you’re not the best thing about a movie that’s supposed to satisfy your thrill hungry fanbase, you know you’re in trouble. Sadly, Mr. Stallone is so somber and blank in Bullet to the Head that you’d swear his onscreen personality is as Botoxed as his face. The actor looks good for his age, but a thousand doctors couldn’t detect a character pulse here. Jimmy is a statue, a stoic and staid fixture that is supposed to inspire fear. Instead, the only thing the Artist Formerly Known as Rocky/Rambo is rousing here is boredom. There is nothing new or novel about this material, the source failing to offer the kind of imprint that differentiates this story from a thousand other mad mobster movies. We’ve seen someone like Jimmy dozens of times - Brad Pitt played something similar a few months ago in the equally unexciting Killing Them Softly. Hitmen apparently no longer execute people with expert efficiency. Instead, they brood and blather on like participants in some manner of Killer Coffee Klatch.
Even worse, Kang’s eager officer is nothing more than an excuse for exposition…and the occasional fit of forced humor. He is the high tech response to Jimmy’s lost in the old school sentiment, glued to his Blackberry and siding with its instant access to the information superhighway with mind-numbing regularity. Need some info on a perp? Our hero has it covered. Want to check up on Jimmy Bob’s rap sheet? You got it. Got to find the hideout of the bad guys? Time to whip out the mobile GPS. It’s ridiculous. Indeed, for a guy who supposedly knows the Big Easy like the back of his veined hand, Stallone seems nonplused by his lack of information. He’s the only mobster in the history of gangster cinema who doesn’t have a series of strung out junkies he can bully for some crucial narrative data.
It’s all Walter Hill’s fault. The man who once made the movies we all looked forward to is a long, long way from something like 48 Hours. Heck, he’s barely in Supernova territory here. His timing is all off, the moments in between tedious action scenes rife with unnecessary dialogue. There is a real desire to make Jimmy a three dimensional person, to ride on the back of his unbelievable code and likeable loner antihero stances. But it all adds up to nothing - as does the plot. Once Oz man Akinnuoye-Agbaje explains his plan, the movie is over…and this happens about 30 minutes in. Suddenly, there is no suspense. This is a real estate swindle gone sideways and the only real question becomes when the bad guys will get it…and by who.
If there is one sole saving grace here, and it barely registers on the revival scale, it’s former Conan Jason Momoa as Keegan. As the hired brawn in the villain’s plan, he makes an excellent threat. Sure. some of his actions are borderline superhuman (like a massacre in a bar where he fires five hundred shots while the myriad of victims can’t seem to find a single bullet between them) and when he takes on Stallone for the final axe-wielding showdown, he seems awful surprised by his 66 year old co-stars mantle. Yet with a glower in his eyes and just a few lines of dialogue, he makes the most of the material. If it wasn’t for a last act change of heart that you can see coming several hundred miles away, Keegan would be a classic creep. Instead, he turns into a cog in a movie machine that lacks oil…and originality.
And that’s why Bullet to the Head doesn’t work. It’s literally has nothing new to say. It’s simply the same old cops and con men malarkey amped up because Stallone is trying to regain his ‘80s solo mojo. Had he not been in the film, had say someone like Jason Statham been given the chance to play Jimmy Bobo’s ethical killer, we’d probably have nothing more than a blip on the early 2013 release calendar. But just like the retrofitted (and fun) riff on High Noon ala The Last Stand, this is another past their prime actor hoping to string gold again. Unlike Schwarzenegger, however, Stallone’s comeback stumbles. Like a sizable sleeping pill, Bullet to the Head is a surefire snooze fest.