With Sylvester Stallone, Jason Momoa, Christian Slater, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi. Written by Alessandro Camon. Directed by Walter Hill. Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use. 91 minutes.
Is Ronald Reagan in the White House? Are “Dallas” and “The Dukes Of Hazzard” among the top-rated shows on television? Are Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis releasing new action films?
Well, no we’re not in the 1980s, but except for Chuck Norris, the big ‘80s action stars are indeed releasing new movies in 2013. Schwarzenegger’s “The Last Stand” opened a couple of weeks ago, and the fifth “Die Hard” film with Willis opens a couple of weeks from now. Today our focus is on Stallone, who – having said farewell to his iconic Rocky and Rambo characters – seems to have been re-energized by his “Expendables” films, which featured numerous action stars, and seems ready to play on his own again.
In BULLET TO THE HEAD he’s James Bonomo, a hitman for hire whose most recent job has gone wrong. He’s completed his assignment, showing he’s a “good” hitman for not killing an innocent bystander, but then his partner is taken out by Keegan (Jason Momoa), the film’s “bad” hitman. It turns out they’re all employed by a consortium including Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater), a crooked Louisiana lawyer. It has to do with shady land deals, bribing politicians, and covering one’s tracks. None of it makes the slightest bit of difference so don’t waste your time trying to follow it.
The person Bonomo has taken out is an ex-cop from Washington, D.C. and his former partner, Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), has come to Louisiana to find out what’s happened. Soon detective Kwon and hitman Bonomo are unlikely partners in tracking down Keegan, Baptiste, and the rest of their crooked enterprise. If this sounds vaguely familiar it should, because the cop/crook partnership was turned into the 1982 hit “48 Hrs.” directed by Walter Hill. By coincidence (not!), Hill is behind the camera for his first film in a decade. Fortunately, he gets that the dynamics between Stallone and Kang are, of necessity, different than that between Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, and he allows their odd couple relationship to play out with some laughs, but no clowning.
Instead we get lots of shootings, several explosions and car chases, and of course the damsel-in-distress played by Sarah Shahi as a tough-minded tattoo artist whose complex relation with Bonomo is only slowly revealed. All of this is the pulpiest of fictions (based on a French graphic novel) and bears only the slightest resemblance to reality. Stallone is believable in the action scenes although he acknowledges his advancing years with a certain sardonic wit. He plays Bonomo as a guy who has seen it all and is too old to play games. When challenged to a duel with fire axes he looks at his opponent and says, “What are we, Vikings?”
Although this would seem to be an NRA commercial what with all the gun play it does demonstrate that “good guys” (or less-bad guys) with guns don’t always beat bad guys with guns, but the “Bullet To The Head” is fatal all the same. Watching the movie won’t be as fatal, especially for those who enjoy fast-paced and not very complex action movies. For those longing for something more, it’s likely to be a long wait.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.