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Bullet to the Head - JFC Movie Review
An aged Sly Stallone goes back in time in Walter Hill's violent homage to old-school 1980s action movies that's check-your-brain-at-the-door entertainment at its finest.
Bullet to the Head (*** / ****)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Jason Momoa, Christian Slater
Director: Walter Hill
One character is shot in the shoulder by killers who've just taken out his partner. He gets the slug removed by someone who isn't even a doctor, who also (likely very crudely) stitches him up. Said character is fine until the ending, in which he gets hit again in almost the exact same spot. Thanks to the magic of movie time-lapse (in this case, six weeks) he's up and running again after a whopping thirty days of rehab. Not once is he in any danger of bleeding to death or suffering any permanent damage.
This is the kind of logic you're expected to wash down with a big old glass of disbelief suspension if you expect to get any enjoyment out of Bullet in the Head. And you know what? I had a good time and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Last time I checked, movies are still allowed to be nothing but dumb fun once in awhile.
Bullet never pretends to be anything other than a violent and plot-free escapist romp, but when a 66-year-old Sylvester Stallone is taking top billing, director Walter Hill really had no other option. (You have to reach way back to 1997 to find Stallone's last remotely cerebral flick, the still-terrific Cop Land.) Stallone is still ripped as heck, with a pipeline of garden hose-sized veins snaking all over his arms, while simultaneously looking as if he went through a tannery, and he has a nice collection of gaudy tattoos on his shoulders and chest that look like they were applied with crayons. Stallone makes Bonomo's often-corny dialogue sound badass with that slurred growl of his, but unfortunately more often than not he sounds like Charlie Brown's muted-trumpet schoolteachers from those old Peanuts cartoons. Basically, he's Cocoon meets Commando in one package.
He plays Jimmy Bonomo, a grizzled New Orleans hitman (the picture was filmed in Louisiana) who is seeking revenge on the men who knifed his partner (Jon Seda) to death following a job that went sour. He winds up teaming with a clean-cut Washington DC detective, Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), whose partner was also brutally murdered. They soon discover that the same group of thugs were behind both killings, and oh-so-reluctantly team up to hunt them down. That's pretty much it.
Based on a French graphic novel, Bullet is a throwback to those shameless old-school action flicks of the mid-1980s, a time where you could still buy realistic-looking water guns at Toys 'R Us. Guys get shot in the face left and right. Heck, they get shot everywhere, period; the amount of fake blood that Hill soaks just about every frame with probably ate up a good chunk of the budget alone. A crooked attorney (Christian Slater) is livin' large in a spacious mansion. The female role - Jimmy's daughter Lisa, played by Sarah Shahi - is a predictably thankless plot device. The villain, Keegan (Jason Momoa), is genuinely scary and anyone who comes in contact with him one way or another usually winds up dead. (Keegan's boss, played by the always-cool Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, is articulate, crippled and sharply dressed, reminiscent of Patrick Stewart in the overlooked 1993 actioner Gunmen.) There's a nice big explosion thrown in simply for the sake of having one, and the final showdown takes place inside an abandoned warehouse.
The picture isn't very long at just over an hour and a half, and it's extremely rushed, leaving zero room for any sort of characterization. The script requires Slater, as lawyer Marcus Baptiste, to unload a huge amount of exposition at machine-gun speed when he's held captive by Bonomo, rather than the two leads actually working to piece the mystery together by themselves. Plus, chances are that the aforementioned shoulder injury would've taken place at an actual hospital instead of requiring Lisa to be a tattoo artist who's somehow experienced in bullet extraction for reasons unexplained. She also lives alone in a house, not an apartment, but an actual house, which I doubt is possible on a tattooist's salary alone, even when it's revealed that Jimmy supports her on the side, but it's not as if hitmen collect steady paychecks either. She's inevitably taken hostage and has to be rescued by Jimmy, in case we forget why her presence in the movie is required in the first place.
Kang's Taylor doesn't fare much better. He's constantly attached to his Blackberry that it teeters dangerously on the precipice of blatant product placement, but then again it's probably to remind the audience that this is 2020 and not 1986. Most of Taylor's detective work consists of him regularly performing "speed checks" on his phone that conveniently give a load of information on whatever suspects he and Bonomo are chasing. Kang and Stallone don't have much chemistry, either, as their attempt to copy the unfunny Rush Hour-style banter fails miserably, and therefore any allegedly amusing one-liners they throw at each other have all the enthusiasm of a weather report. Slater and his ever-whiny voice are just woefully miscast as Baptiste, period, but thankfully he doesn't hang around for very long.
The only one who leaves a lasting impression is Momoa, who doesn't have much to do except look menacing while increasing the body count, but he's damn good at it. Tall, attractive and imposing, to me he actually resembled a younger version of WWE wrestler Paul "Big Show" Wight before he went south physically. (Oh, the things you think of when you let your mind wander in a dark theater.) Keegan also features in a surprisingly exciting axe battle with Bonomo, which results in the film's only genuine laugh-out-loud line when Stallone drawls, "What are we, Vikings?" Momoa may have failed miserably in ascending the action-star echelon with 2020's misbegotten Conan the Barbarian, but after Bullet, don't be surprised if he at least books himself a spot in the inevitable third Expendables go-round.