Director Walter Hill has a long history of making great action movies. He’s tackled a variety in the genre, ranging from gang violence (1979’s The Warriors) to a mismatched buddy picture (48 Hrs.- 1982) to a Western (The Long Riders-1980) to a Prohibition era gangster movie (Last Man Standing-1996). His films are packed full of gunfire, an occasional explosion or two, and plenty of tough guys spouting off pithy one liners. In his latest movie, starring action movie icon Sylvester Stallone, Hill returns to the mismatched buddy flick. Based on the graphic novel “Du plomb dans la tete” by Alexis Nolent, Bullet to the Head follows the tale of hitman James “Jimmy Bobo” Bonomo (Stallone), who, along with his partner Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda), pull a hit on a dirty cop and end up double-crossed. This leads to a subsequent pairing with Washington, D.C. cop Taylor Kwan (Sung Kang) to try to take down the bad guys. What follows are plenty of traded quips (most of which fall flat), numerous shoot-outs, a couple of explosions, the prerequisite daughter/wife/girlfriend placed in danger, and a final, brutal confrontation, all accompanied by a blues-rock musical score. It’s a by the numbers action flick, and while competent, it never rises above the same old, same old movie we’ve seen so many times before. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not a good one, either.
The movie takes place in Crescent City and opens with Jimmy and Louis taking out crooked cop Hank Greely (Holt McCallany). Jimmy spares a hooker who’s hiding in the shower, because his code prevents him from killing women or children. While in a bar after the hit, Louis is killed by another hitman, Keegan, played with appropriate menace by Jason Momoa (Conan the Barbarian, Game of Thrones). Soon afterward, Jimmy is contacted by out of town officer Kwan, who has been investigating Greely. The two realize it might be mutually beneficial for them to work together, as Kwan wants who ordered the hit and Jimmy wants who double crossed him. In the course of their investigation, Kwan is shot, and Jimmy takes him to his tattoo artist with medical training daughter Lisa (Sarah Shahi) to get patched up. The trail eventually leads to a local rich landlord, Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater), who is backed by the more mysterious and scheming Robert Nkomo Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Naturally, Morel has Keegan in his employ, Kwan finds out the local cops are dirty, and Jimmy’s daughter is placed in jeopardy, leading to the final, somewhat satisfying confrontation. There are no real surprises here, so how much you enjoy the whole thing may depend on whether you’ve become jaded by action movies or not.
The cast is for the most part decent in their respective roles. Stallone is the same tough guy we’ve seen countless times before, and Kang (Fast Five, Ninja Assassin) plays the typically idealistic, naive cop who’s willing to stretch the law as long as he gets justice done in the end well enough. Shahi plays the tough daughter role to a hilt, and Slater and Akinnuoye-Agbaje play suitable villains. The highlight is Momoa, who imbues his hitman Keegan with plenty of menace and intelligence, capable of doling out violence or a one liner at any point. Keegan is a man who enjoys his work, and can’t be motivated by money, and Momoa plays him well, even upstaging Stallone in the lead role. The highlight of the entire movie is a climactic axe duel between Stallone and Momoa, and that fight alone makes the movie worthy of a rental, at the very least.
Bullet to the Head pulls no punches and offers no surprises. It’s a competent action movie, done by the numbers. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s nothing you need go out of your way for, either. It’s entertaining enough to keep you watching, but not memorable enough that you’ll want to go back to this again. Worth a rental. There are worse ways to take up 92 minutes of your time.
Bullet to the Head is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
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