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BULLET TO THE HEAD – The Review

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After coming together last year for the action movie mega hit, EXPENDABLES 2, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis are hoping to take 2013 by divide and conquer. As we have seen, THE LAST STAND may have brought Arnold back to the top of his game although not the top of the box office charts, and there’s no doubt A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD will fare better financially later in February, but for now we have BULLET TO THE HEAD, Sly’s team-up with seasoned action movie legend Walter Hill (THE DRIVER, THE WARRIORS).

Adapted from the French graphic novel Du Plomb Dans La Tete by Alexis Nolent, BULLET TO THE HEAD is a sleazy, straight-up action flick that doesn’t dare subvert or exceed one’s expectations. Stallone strolls through the carnage as a mean, no-nonsense grumpy old man who is roped into doing some honest-to-goodness heroics after he’s double-crossed by the mob. Seeking revenge, he pairs up with a tech-savvy cop, forming an unlikely alliance to bring the criminals to justice. BULLET TO THE HEAD finds itself adrift in a post-Sin City world of gritty violence and watered-down noir. While the film never aspires to be more than a grim schlock-fest, Hill’s script which was co-written with Oscar nominee Alessandro Camon (THE MESSENGER) is a mess of hard-boiled dialogue and incomprehensible plotting about a West African crime boss extorting their way into lucrative real estate deals, and unseemly conspiracies that go ‘all the way up to Washington’.

Most disappointing is the odd-couple dynamic of Stallone’s hitman Jimmy Bobo and Sung Kang’s Detective Kwon. Considering that Hill helped create the buddy cop genre with the likes of 48 HOURS and RED HEAT, the relationship between the leads is surprisingly stilted, and their continuous banter is excruciating. After much face smashing, the two renegades eventually catch wind of a local conspiracy involving government contracts, converted condos and Christian Slater, who makes a short but fun cameo as a local sleazeball with a few zingers of his own. As is required in this sort of nuts-and-bolts material, all the characters wind up at an abandoned power plant, where the big showdown goes down with bullets and battleaxes and some more jokes from the peanut gallery.

Bullet to the Head

But the film has an ace up its sleeve, its an under-utilized Jason Momoa as the unscrupulous hitman hot on the tail of our heroes. Momoa cuts a mean figure, hulking and glaring in some of the film’s better scenes of wanton destruction. It’s a cat-and-mouse relationship that builds towards a final showdown, one that may make or break the film if you’re the kind of viewer who desires such match-ups. Stallone versus Momoa, one-on-one, a passing of the action movie torch sort of way that, despite the title on the poster, isn’t played out with pistols. No, they’re going to fight to the death with axes. Axes!

BULLET TO THE HEAD

We’re clearly in EXPENDABLES territory here yet Hill ruins the action sequences by throwing the camera around, substituting chaos for clarity, or that the director litters his film with film burn transitions, crash-zooms and a barbecued blues-rock soundtrack that could be the work of any journeyman filmmaker, not the latest from a cult icon. Perhaps the game got rough for Hill, too, for after years of finding style and humor in genre films, he has grown cynical. From the hackneyed, humorless script to the over-baked direction, BULLET TO THE HEAD’s every shortcoming is on full display. It is not fun enough, daring enough, committed or irreverent enough to be anything but a bland retread, a lazy stopgap between bigger and brighter projects. Rather expendable, really.

 2 Out Of 5 Stars

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