Synopsis: Sylvester Stallone stars as Jimmy Bobo, a career hitman who enters into an unlikely alliance with by-the-book detective Taylor Kwon to bring down the ruthless killer of their respective partners.
Release Date: February 1, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Sylvester Stallone might be a little too old for action movies, but don’t tell him that as he’s clearly got a lot still invested in the genre. His newest flick, Bullet to the Head, is a guy’s movie, a gruff piece of work that features plenty of bullets, boobs, and blood (or as I like to call them the 3 B’s).
But more importantly, the film features Sly as James Bonomo – a.k.a. Jimmy Bobo – a tough-as-nails NOLA-based hitman that always delivers on his promises. When Jimmy’s partner-in-literal-crime falls prey to the blade of another hitman named Keegan (Jason Momoa) he must begrudgingly accept the help of Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), a naive D.C.-based detective that is after Keegan’s boss, to get revenge.
The two team up for what is a standard action/thriller, shaking down potential leads; Kwon with interrogation, Jimmy with pain, and getting caught in the middle of more than a few fights, of both the fist and gun variety. The relationship between Kwon and Jimmy isn’t all that original, nor does it evolve beyond the typical odd couple trope. I only mention the stilted nature of the relationship because something must be said about the amount of racist remarks Bonomo throws Kwon’s way.
He does so not because he’s racially insensitive or because he lives in the South (which both could also be true), but in this case, it’s because there’s an assumption the audience will find calling a Korean guy “Confucious” amusing. Just in case you were wondering, it’s not. The lazy effort to add another layer to Stallone’s character, to make him more than a Whiskey drinking hitman, only makes him less likable, and to be honest the character is, for the most part, a lot of fun.
Taken at face value Bullet to the Head delivers the type of ballsy action picture fans of Stallone will expect – no more, no less. The plot is perfunctory and the characters are thinly drawn, but Stallone is charismatic enough to keep the film hovering slightly above mediocre territory. When Stallone isn’t saying much and is merely trying to make the bad guys pay, the film’s pretty entertaining, fun even. But when there’s some legwork needed for plot’s sake or moments without Stallone, the film loses a ton of momentum. In essence, it’s a Stallone movie made for Stallone fans.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention director Walter Hill’s contribution to the film, as he is a legend in both the action and western genres. His work here turns Bullet to the Head into an ’80s throwback with an extensive use of stylized transitions and a dynamic camera. As a result, the film takes on a pulpy feel as we watch our anti-hero deal out his particular brand of justice.
At times the style calls attention to itself, but even then that feels right considering the subject matter. Hill knew he was making a Stallone flick, and wanted to make the best possible version. He may not succeed overall, but in certain respects he gets the job done.
On a purely functional level, the action in Bullet to the Head greatly plays to the strengths of an aged star like Sylvester Stallone. Rather than feature him perform a lot of overly complicated choreography, Bullet to the Head chooses to keep the fights pretty basic and let the brutality of a mano-y-mano brawl or an old-fashioned shootout do the talking.
At the same time, the choice of Jason Momoa for the role of Keegan allows for a younger, more athletic actor to deliver the really impressive stunts and action, and provides a decent counterpoint for Stallone’s character. The final fight between Momoa and Stallone emphasizes that mismatch, but it’s also one of the more brutal fights I’ve seen in quite some time. He might not be a great actor, but Stallone can still take and deal out the punches surprisingly well.