Bullet To The Head

Bullet To The Head


Reviewed by: David Graham

Booze, boobs, blood and bullets. If any (or preferably all) of these things appeal to you, you should enjoy this latest cinematic Bullet To The Head, simple as that. Continuing Sylvester Stallone's seemingly unstoppable comeback and giving alpha-male action legend Walter Hill his first big screen directing gig in more than 10 years, this adaptation of a French graphic novel isn't breaking any new ground but it's a sturdy, invigorating blast nonetheless.

While it lacks the charming creakiness of Arnie's recent Last Stand, and can't come close to the level of blood-boiling intensity in Hill's Southern Comfort and The Warriors, it represents a step in the right direction for Sly after the spectacularly ludicrous but woefully unfunny Expendables movies, while the sweltering New Orleans location and a mostly solid supporting cast distinguish it from many recent retro-tinged throwback shoot'em-ups.

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Louisiana contract killer Jimmy BoBo finds himself with a dead partner on his hands and a bounty on his head after a routine hit sees him become an expendable commodity to some land-grabbing scumbags. Reluctantly teaming up with a Korean cop who needs the ageing assassin's local knowledge to break the ring of corruption and avenge his own partner's death, BoBo finds himself facing down his old boss as well as a variety of out-for-blood detectives and hoodlums. His alliance with the younger Kwon is tested by his refusal to stay within the law, but when his tattooist daughter is brought into the mix, BoBo must find a way to begrudgingly work with the by-the-book cop without incriminating himself when it's all over.

A highly stylised credits sequence showcasing the four 'B's referred to at the start of this review nicely deploys comic book-style angles and a blaring swamp-blues score to signpost how unabashedly unpretentious Hill's return is going to be, with a brutally swift bar-room slaying continuing the pleasurably pulpy action and swiftly setting up the vengeance plot-line. Despite looking more like a Spitting Image puppet than ever (that Expendables face-rug was rather fetching next to this baby's bottom visage), Sly is the most agreeable he's been since the relatively measured Rocky Balboa, spitting out pithy lines with all the swagger of his Eighties B-movie heyday. He's also still in remarkably fine fettle, more than holding his own in the down'n'dirty brawls that punctuate the film's eponymous coup de grace executions.

Fast & Furious star Sung Kang, however, is something of a blank foil for the Italian Stallion - while he's nowhere near as wooden as some critics have claimed, his character is more or less rendered ineffectual by an early injury that sees him unable even to 'break out some kung fu', as BoBo so delicately puts it. In fact, his ethnicity serves only to give BoBo the chance to indulge in some sub-Rush Hour racial caricaturing, against which the script gives Kwon very little ammo to respond with. His dependence on modern technology gives rise to some nice culture-clash humor between the pair, with the traditionalist BoBo ribbing the modern detective for utilising everything from Google searches to GPS, but this feels like both a narrative cheat and a cheap product endorsement in place of real sleuthing.

Product placement is rampant elsewhere to similarly mixed effect, from the ridiculously flash cars and distasteful weapon fetishising to BoBo's cute insistence on carrying his own bourbon to the variety of bars he frequents (no prizes for guessing the brand - the clue's in the title). A mid-way house-party infiltration gives Hill a gratuitous excuse to fill the screen with faceless near-naked models, while a nice turn of events featuring unexpectedly disarmed guns throws a table-turning element into the central pair's relationship that keeps their spiky allegiance on the right side of entertaining, but for the most part the action is pretty predictable, though no less enjoyable for its simplicity.

The appealingly spunky Sarah Shahi is disappointingly reduced to damsel in distress status, but the real stand-outs here are the glorious use of the sizzling location - Bourbon Street and its surroundings have rarely seemed so authentically seedy, the script even squeezing in a little of the area's history to give its lawlessness some context - and a trio of scene-stealing bad-guy performances from Christian Slater, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and in particular Jason Momoa of recent Conan fame. Slater snorts up the screen as a sleazy lawyer getting in over his head with the criminal underworld, his manic energy a potent reminder of how he was once tipped as a big-screen successor to Jack Nicholson, while Akinnuoye-Agbaje brings a reptilian menace to his disabled property tycoon, expressing venomous intent toward all around through his intense, coiled stare.

It's the hulking Momoa who really shines though, again fusing his brooding charisma with authentic weapon-wielding and fist-fighting ability to stand out as an even more worthy heir to the action hero throne than the likes of current guilty-pleasure pretender Jason Statham and wrestling breakout Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. While Momoa is yet to find a role that truly showcases his all-round appeal (Conan was perhaps too one-note - his relaxed villainy here works more in his favor), he aces every scene he appears in, proving he has acting chops to go with the physicality he so powerfully conveys. Forget Bradley Cooper and Mark Wahlberg: if anyone is serious about rebooting The Crow franchise, this is the guy to do it, although he might have to dump the bulk a bit to pull that or any other serious acting gigs off.

Riding on a rocking soundtrack and a refreshingly tight run-time, Bullet To The Head is no-frills, high-velocity nonsense that's sure to please anyone willing to disengage their brain for 92 minutes. While it doesn't exactly represent a renaissance work for Hill or a high-water mark for Stallone's current output, it's not exactly the worst thing either of them has put their name to either, and out of the recent crop of Eighties-style flicks, it's probably truer to that decade's excessive ethos than Arnie's Last Stand or Willis' 12A-certified Live Fast And Die Hard. The violence may not be quite as full-on as its target audience will be expecting (nay, craving), but there's enough style and energy to Bullet To The Head to please action junkies and trash-lovers alike.

Reviewed on: 11 Feb 2013
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Bullet To The Head packshot
A New Orleans hitman and a Washington DC detective join forces to get revenge on the man who killed their partners.
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Director: Walter Hill

Writer: Alessandro Camon, based on the graphic novel by Alexis Nolent.

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Momoa, Sung Kang, Christian Slater, Sarah Shahi, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Year: 2012

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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