Starring Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jason Momoa, Christian Slater, Jon Seda, Holt McCallany, Brian Van Holt, Weronika Rosati, Dane Rhodes, Marcus Lyle Brown
Directed by Walter Hill
Expectations: Moderate and hopeful.
Bullet to the Head is a film that many will likely hate. Its story is convoluted and dumb, it’s needlessly gratuitous in its violence, and it looks more like an episode of a crime-themed TV show than a movie. But despite the odds stacked against it, Bullet to the Head succeeds by blunt force. This is far from being a good, well-made film, but it’s entertaining in all the right ways as long as you’re able to get into its groove. If nothing else, it should be impressive that Stallone is able to hold his own on-screen at 67 years old against people half his age.
Bullet to the Head opens with a hit. James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) and his partner bust into a posh hotel room and quickly dispatch of the man inside. For reasons unexplained, James does not take out the sole witness to their crime, a woman hiding in the shower. When they go to get paid they find that the job was a set-up, as another hitman (Jason Momoa) kills James’s partner and almost does the same to James. Meanwhile, Taylor (Sung Kang), a cop from Washington DC travels to New Orleans to investigate the murder of his ex-partner (AKA the man killed in the opening hit). But while the New Orleans Police Department is standing in his way, Taylor finds an unlikely partner in James.
So yeah, the story is pretty out there. Makes sense that it was originally a graphic novel. In some ways this outlandish tale goes too far — for instance, its willingness to dish out bullets to the head is unsettling — but the over-the-top nature to the story also allows for some very entertaining scenes. Sung Kang and Sylvester Stallone are especially good together, as they trade banter about Stallone’s age or Kang’s… Asian-ness. OK, so the slew of Asian jokes felt a bit racist and dumb, but it did feel true to Stallone’s character so I guess I can let it slide. Anyway, the two leads share more than a few genuinely funny exchanges, something I wasn’t expecting at all, and this helps lighten the mood and make you forget about the film’s negative aspects.
But no matter how funny some of these conversations are or aren’t, the real reason you watch a Sylvester Stallone movie, even a modern one when he’s over 60, is the action. Bullet to the Head is not the high-octane action movie like its title suggests, but what it does have is rather fun. The star of the show are the hand-to-hand fights, much to my surprise and delight. I do love a good fist fight. They are somewhat clumsily edited at times, but the hits are exceptionally chunky and tough. As soon as I saw the early scene of Sly and Jason Momoa battling each other in a bar bathroom, I knew I was in for a fun ride. The rest of the film did not disappoint, and when these two forces of nature eventually clash again it’s quite the duel. The circumstances of this battle were spoiled for me so I was waiting for it to come, but I won’t spoil it for you. It’s not quite as good as the JCVD/Stallone fight in The Expendables 2, but it’s close (even with the modern editing and camerawork that plagues the film).
That’s really all you need to know about this one. If you’re pumped, watch it. If you’re rolling your eyes, don’t bother. If Bullet to the Head was a sentence, it’d be, “Oh yeah? Well, fuck you and die!” It’s not the most eloquent, but it gets the job done.