Sunday, February 3, 2013


Watching the Sylvester Stallone shoot’em up “Bullet to the Head” (**** OUT OF ****) felt like a blast from the past.  This polished but predictable anthology of action movie clichés contains several R-rated, close-quarters, combat scenes with sufficient amounts of blood splatter and gore; some high-octane, fireball explosions; lots of snappy tough guy banter; and surprising displays of frontal female nudity.  Half the scenes reminded me of producer Joel Silver’s explosive, slam-bang, white-knuckled, testosterone-laden tales, such as “Conspiracy Theory,” “Exit Wounds, “Swordfish,” and his “Lethal Weapon” franchise.  Indeed, Silver serves as one of the producers, and “Bullet to the Head” adheres to his formula.  Meanwhile, action auteur Walter Hill drew the other half from his hardboiled melodramas.  For the record, Hill helmed the two “48 Hrs” flicks with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, “Extreme Prejudice” with Nick Nolte, “Last Man Standing” with Bruce Willis, and “Red Heat” co-starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Belushi.  Although “The Messenger” scenarist Alessandro Camon adapted the Alexis Nolent graphic novel "Du plomb dans la tête,” “Bullet to the Head” looks like “48 Hrs” and/or “Red Heat” clone.  Mind you, “Bullet to the Head” is Hill’s first theatrical release since his gritty 2002 prison melodrama “Undisputed” with Ving Rhames and Wesley Snipes.  During his absence from the big screen, Hill helmed the premiere episode of HBO’s “Deadwood,” and then the television mini-series western “Broken Trail” (2006) costarring Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church.”  In many respects, this action-packed, largely straightforward, odd couple buddy picture compares favorably with earlier, exceptional Stallone sagas like “Assassins,” “The Specialist,” and “Demolition Man.”  Most definitely, it surpasses “Tango and Cash” and “Stop, Or My Mom Will Shoot.”

Cast as a seasoned hit-man in the Crescent City, Sylvester Stallone tangles with a mysterious cabal of Big Easy investors who have the New Orleans Police Department on their payroll.  Director Walter Hill has juggled the occupations of the protagonists from his earlier buddy picture epics.  The cop was always the lead in the combo in the “48 Hrs” movies and “Red Heat.”  This time around, world-weary, career criminal James “Bobo” Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone of “Rocky”) is the lead, while saintly, Washington, D.C. Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang of “Fast & Furious”) behaves rather naively and relies too much on his cell phone.  Ironically, the two men want to exact vengeance for the deaths of their former partners.  They agree to form an uneasy alliance, but Kwon’s conscience prompts him to constrain Bonomo. These two don’t immediately run into each other. When the plot unfolds, Bonomo and his partner Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda of “Bad Boys 2”) masquerade as cops to snuff a cocaine-snorting thug, Hank Greely (Holt McCallany of “Fight Club”), in a motel room.  Bonomo spots a tattooed prostitute cowering in the shower, but he lets her live.  This amoral murderer draws the line at shooting women.  When he is behind the wheel on the road, he swerves to avoid stray cats in front of him.  “It’s bad luck,” he assures Louis.  These two show up at a crowded bar where they are supposed to pick up the balance of their loot for the shooting.  Before either realizes they have been double-crossed, another assassin, Keegan (Jason Momoa of “Conan”), stabs poor Louis repeatedly to death in front of everybody.  He wields a small blade to hack both of Louis’ lungs so nobody in the noisy bar knows a murder has occurred.  Keegan isn’t quite as lucky with Bonomo.  Now, Bonomo wants payback.  Our hero crosses paths with a hard-nosed, Washington, D.C. police detective who is visiting New Orleans.  As it turns out, Hank Greely was his former partner in Washington.  Kwon wants the people who ordered Hank’s demise.  Sure, neither Bonomo nor Kwon have much use for each other initially, but they kind of grow on one other as they survive back-to-back fracases. 

Hill stages some gripping shoot-out scenes that genre fans will savor, and you get to see Silver's trademark Ka-Boom explosions!  Hill never lets the narrative bog down in aimless chatter or an over elaborate plot.  Stallone’s character provides deadpan narration throughout the pyrotechnics so you never take anything seriously in “Bullet to the Head.”  “Bullet to the Head” is not unlike a Tarantino thriller.  Camon and Hill wrap up everything, but leave room for a sequel since the hero’s daughter and the D.C. cop are dating.  At 66 years of age, Sylvester Stallone appears as fit as a fiddle.  This is the kind of movie where guys shed shirts and clash muscles.  He channels a little bit of “Rocky” in his tongue-in-cheek performance.  The ax fight between beefy, muscle-bound Jason Momoa and Stallone has been carefully edited to present both to maximum advantage.  You know Stallone is going to triumph, but Momoa doesn’t make it look easy.  Momoa makes a lusty villain.  No less villainous is Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as a crippled, African investor has no qualms about murder.  Christian Slater appears briefly as a smarmy swindler with a flash drive around his neck that boasts the goods of everybody.  The interrogation scene is pretty amusing.  Clocking in at a lean, mean, 97 minutes, “Bullet to the Head” doesn’t wear out its welcome.  You don’t even have to wait around to see what’s after the end credits so you can clear out early.  Were it not for the pedigree talent involved, “Bullet to the Head” would qualify at best as a three-star rather than a four-star movie.  If you still like Stallone, you'll love "Bullet to the Head" because it is worth shelling out the bucks to watch this Spartan saga.