I have a feeling that the majority of moviegoers that see the trailer for BULLET TO THE HEAD will just roll their eyes, and say “Really? Another Sylvester Stallone movie? Isn’t he getting too old?” And those people are missing the point. There is a reason to get excited to see this movie. And that’s Walter Hill!!! What’s the big deal, you ask? He’s only made some of the best manly, macho, kick ass films from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. He’s responsible for 48 HRS, THE WARRIORS, STREETS OF FIRE, EXTREME PREJUDICE, WILD BILL, LAST MAN STANDING, CROSSROADS, THE LONG RIDERS, JOHNNY HANDSOME, SOUTHERN COMFORT, TRESPASS, the awesome Charles Bronson & James Coburn streetfighting flick HARD TIMES, and my personal favorite, THE DRIVER (1978), which was definitely a precursor to 2011’s DRIVE (starring Ryan Gosling). That movie would never have existed if it weren’t for Walter Hill. His films are well crafted, no-nonsense and full of violent action. His films contain everything that would make a 14-year-old action fan cream in his pants. And believe me, I was that 14-year-old boy growing up. But, he’s been missing for 11 years! After having some trouble with the Sci-Fi disaster SUPERNOVA, and the poor Box Office of UNDISPUTED, he decided to step away from filmmaking. He did a TV western, but that’s about it. Well, now, he’s back! And this time he’s working with another 80’s icon, Sylvester Stallone! As soon as I heard about this film being greenlit (about 2-3 years ago), it easily became something that I awaited with much anticipation.
Based on a graphic novel, BULLET TO THE HEAD has Stallone playing Jimmy Bobo (love the name, ha!), a New Orleans hitman. He and his partner take someone out, and just when they thought everything went smoothly, another hired gun (Jason Momoa) tries to kill them. Bobo gets away, but his partner doesn’t. Of course, this pisses the tattooed hitman to no end, and wants vengeance on the people who set him up. Sung Kang plays a cop investigating the related murders and tracks down Bobo, not to arrest him, but to ask for his assistance. Of course Bobo is resistant and first, but before you can say “buddy cop film”, he gives in and the mismatched pair enter the seedy and corrupted underworld. There’s also Bobo’s tattoo artist daughter, who eventually gets mixed up with her dad’s problems, and now….. IT’S PERSONAL!
Okay. You don’t walk into a Walter Hill movie (especially one called BULLET TO THE HEAD) looking for vast character development, and an Oscar-winning screenplay. You go to this movie to see Stallone be a fucking bad ass and kill a shit ton of people. And in that regard, this movie definitely delivers. I was a little worried when I sat down at my screening, because I wasn’t too impressed with any of the trailers. Fortunately, it IS better than any advertisements.
It does start off a bit shaky. It opens with a black and white scene that actually takes place about two-thirds of the way into the plot, then it flashes back so we can see how the story got to that point. I don’t think was really necessary. And then the opening credits were kind of bad, which is over a drunk dude stumbling around his hotel room while his hooker is showering. There are lots of quick cuts and sped up film, and to be honest… it was pretty lame. However, once the titles end, and the REAL movie gets moving, it gets much, much better.
The movie does a great job introducing us to Stallone’s character. He’s the ultimate bad-ass professional. But he’s a MEAN dude! He doesn’t hesitate when killing someone, or letting them know that he will kill them. I was expecting a lot of action (and it’s there), but I was surprised by how many hand-to-hand fights there were (I thought there would have been more shootouts), so that was refreshing. The first one, when Stallone meets Momoa for the first time, is short, intense and brutal while the two smash the shit out of each other in a small bar bathroom. It’s no surprise that Walter Hill directs the action quite well, he sure as hell directed enough of it over the years. There was enough violent action to make the 14-year-old in me giddy as get out! It definitely has a more old school flavor to it. I love movies that make me feel the nostalgia, which is why that I loved that the climax takes place at an old abandoned building in the middle of nowhere! That’s one of the oldest, overdone action staples. And it’s fucking awesome!
Sylvester Stallone is in top form here. People can make fun him all they want, but he knows how to deliver the goods in an action movie. While I enjoyed EXPENDABLES 2, I found that his character and acting were just “okay”. But he’s on fire here. His deadpan delivery is perfect. His interaction with Kang is terrific. I love it that Stallone is that clichéd, grumpy old criminal who hates cops. I love it how he doesn’t put up with bullshit. He’ll kick the piss out of you if you say anything remotely insulting to him. He definitely gets all the best lines and laughs (and they are intentional) in the movie. His one liners will satisfy his biggest fans. I was so happy to see Stallone hit this one out of the park. Not for one second does he seem like a has-been. He’s a star! The other actors are fine, but aren’t on Stallone’s level. Kang is likable as the cop helping Bobo, but he felt a bit stiff at times. Christian Slater plays a sleazy lawyer (or was it politician, whatever), and succeeds. I guess it helps being Christian Slater I guess. It’s a bit of odd casting, but it works. Sarah Shahi is fine as Bobo’s daughter, but won’t be winning any awards anytime soon. I don’t really know much about Jason Momoa, but he was pretty damn good as the villain here. He made a great foil for Stallone. Their final axe-clinging confrontation is…. well….. you just don’t get any more bad-ass than that.
After not directing a theatrical film for over 10 years, Hill proves that he’s still got it. The film is a bit rough around the edges. I did like most of the direction. He doesn’t use too much shaky cam, and the shots are interesting enough to keep it from being dull. However, Hill uses this flash cutting technique during flashbacks and scene transitions that distracted from the movie rather than add to it. If the movie was more straightforward in the editing department, I probably would have given the movie an even higher rating. But it’s not perfect. And you know…. a movie called BULLET TO THE HEAD is not intended to be. It’s definitely a better film than Arnold’s jokey THE LAST STAND. I like how dark this movie is. I love it that it takes itself very seriously. This is a balls-to-the-wall action flick. The script has some great, cheesy one-liners. The music is also typical Hill too, with lots of bluesy guitar. Definitely fit the tone of the film. And while THE LAST STAND went on for 20 minutes too long, BULLET TO THE HEAD knows better. It’s just over 90 minutes.
This isn’t Stallone’s very best. I love the Rambo films, most of the ROCKY films, TANGO & CASH, COPLAND, and CLIFFHANGER. However, this is easily better than many of his other films: THE SPECIALIST, ASSASSINS, JUDGE DREDD, DRIVEN, and even DEMOLITION MAN. I would put it on par with COBRA (though this is a different animal than that). It’s a fun, darkly violent popcorn movie that features an awesomely confident, “tough guy” performance from Stallone. And with solid direction from 80’s action veteran Walter Hill, this film definitely makes you hope that neither of these two are done knocking out movies. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use.
– Running time: 1hr 31min.