After their respective partners are murdered, a New Orleans hitman (Sylvester Stallone) and a Washington D.C. cop (Sung Kang) form a partnership to take down a mutual foe responsible for the killings.
Director: Walter Hill (“Last Man Standing,” “48 Hrs”)
Writer: Alessandro Camon (“Madame T,” “The Messenger”)
Based On: The graphic novel Du plomb dans la tête by Alexis Nolent
Notable Supporting Actors: Sarah Shahi, Christian Slater, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Holt McCallany, Brian Van Holt, Jason Mamoa
MY TAKE: “You had me at f**k you,” Sylvester Stallone mumbles affectionately to his pissed off partner in Walter Hill’s “Bullet to the Head,” right after the kid lashes out for being punched in the gut. If it hadn’t already hooked me before, Alessandro Camon’s hilarious banter definitely would have had me there. Camon’s verbal exchanges about race, technology, and police procedure between career criminal James Bonomo (Stallone) and uptight cop Taylor Kwon (Kang) hark back to classic 80s buddy cop films. Kwon wants to go by the book every step of the way, while Bonomo is only interested in dispensing hot lead street justice. Watching their polar opposite personalities bounce off each other is hilarious. Is this what “Beverly Hills Cop” would have been like, had the producers continued their original plan to have Stallone star in the title role? Perhaps it would have been funnier than we all thought. Even though Stallone sounds like a dumb jock, he proves in “Bullet to the Head” that he really can pull off quips like “Are we gonna fight, or are you gonna bore me to death?” for serious laughs. He also surprises by taking on film noir style narration in this picture.
On top of the 80s buddy cop dynamic, “Bullet to the Head” has the aesthetic and story of gritty revenge flick from the 70s. Walter Hill’s film mixes the best of both worlds to create an entertaining action picture with personality. It has a crime-ridden city for its setting and mismatched partners, just like other police movies, plus it involves cold-blooded revenge seeking that would make Charles Bronson proud. In fact, the film probably could have been called “Bullets to the Head” for all the headshots used to dispatch enemies.
Even the music feels right because it’s clearly local musicians playing blues/rock and Cajun influenced tunes. Despite being peripheral to the scenes, the songs in “Bullet to the Head” create this amusing dark, nothing-to-lose kind of ambiance for the protagonists. I was wondering how Hill could so effectively blend these genres and then I realized something: he directed the buddy film “48 Hrs” AND the 70s cult hit “The Warriors,” a personal favorite. Then it all made sense.
The conspiracy at the heart of Bonomo and Kwan’s investigation is easily explained in the course of a couple lines from the bad guys, which is disappointing yet expected for this type of film. Poor Christian Slater’s career has reached a new low, since he merely serves as an expendable henchman for Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje (Mr. Eko from “Lost”). While it’s nice to see Agbaje again, he plays a bland villain who is not only physically weak, but he doesn’t like getting his hands dirty, so he’s not very engaging. Jason Mamoa is a much more interesting bad guy, a mercenary younger and physically larger than Stallone. Mamoa’s character has an arrogant swagger that works against him with the street smart Bonomo.
Another unfortunate thing is that Bonomo and Kwan’s partnership is very uneven. Stallone is really the only one who gets to have fun with witty lines, shooting people, and blowing shit up. Kwan is too devoted to procedure for viewers to like him. Also he’s a complete wimp by comparison, playing into emasculating racial stereotypes. Even when Kwan tries to throw Bonomo off his game, by talking about hooking up with the hitman’s daughter, Bonomo is still cool as a cucumber. A more balanced foil would have made this film strong enough to compensate for its weak plot.
In the land of aging action heroes, Stallone’s “Bullet to the Head” trumps Arnold’s recent flick “The Last Stand.” I had a such blast watching “Bullet to the Head,” that I actually plan to see again as soon as possible. It’s one I think I’ll enjoy just as much on the small screen as I did on the big screen.
MY GRADE: B+