Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER PART II: Bullet to the Head (2012)

With the come back success of “Rocky Balboa,” “Rambo,” and the “Expendables” films, Sylvester Stallone was suddenly back in the position of getting films greenlit with just his star power. At least, the kind of throw back action flicks that get released in January and February. “Bullet to the Head” could’ve been a comeback story for another familiar face. Walter Hill was behind such action classics as “Hard Times,” “The Driver,” “The Warriors,” “Southern Comfort” and “48 Hrs.” Though still active as a producer, Hill hadn’t directed a film since 2002’s mix martial arts minor classic “Undisputed.” Based off a French graphic novel series and greeted with a decent bit of hype, “Bullet to the Head” would disappoint critics and garner little attention from audience. How mediocre must a movie be to alienate the people its tailor made for?

The improbably named Jimmy “Bobo” Bonomo is a hitman based out of Baton Rouge. Though he operates with a moral code of his own, he’s generally an off-putting, tough customer. After he spares the life of a prostitute during a standard hit, his long-time partner is murdered by a rival hitman. Their target, it turns out, was a dirty cop with information on shady local businessmen. Kwon, the partner to the dead man, arrives to investigate. Soon, Bobo and Kwon are working together to untangle what’s gone down. Meanwhile, the psychotic hitman is soon targeting Bobo personally.

“Bullet to the Head” feels a lot like the undistinguished flicks Stallone made simply for the paycheck back in the late eighties. In other words, if it had come out around the same time as “Tango and Cash” or “Over the Top,” action fans would consider it a classic. Of course, the eighties and the distinct qualities that decade brought to film ended a long time ago. “Bullet to the Head” isn’t that funny or charming. Mostly, the comparison is seen in Sly’s character. Jimmy Bobo is a hard man. An ex-con, he figures the people he assassinates have it coming, approaching wanton murder with no further thought. When he speaks at all, it’s usually in smart-ass quibs to his various partners or opponents. Despite being a simplistic sketch, the script still gives Bobo an unnecessary and overly verbose narration. This is the kind of thing Sly has done many times before. He doesn’t appear bored but he can’t make Bobo a compelling character.

Walter Hill basically invented the buddy cop subgenre, by writing “Hickey and Boggs” and directing “48 Hrs.” (For further bonus points, Joel Silver, who also produced “48 Hrs.” and “Lethal Weapon,” produced this one as well.) These clichés are also woven into “Bullet to the Head.” Sung Kang plays Detective Kwon. Kwon and Bobo are tossed together by fate, the hitman making a split-second decision to save the cop. Soon, the two are working together, albeit roughly. Kwon uses his cellphone to dig up clues and information. Bobo prefers to beat info out of people. Kwon is by the book, Bobo plays by his own rules. “Bullet to the Head” does break from buddy movie tradition. Though a mutual respect eventually forms, the two still kind of hate each other by the movie’s end. Stallone and Kang don’t have much in the way of chemistry.

The movie’s plot, about corrupt land developers trying to cover up evidence of their criminal connections, is totally disposable. The collection of bad dudes the movie presents aren’t very memorable. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays a South African sleaze, who accentuates his performance by waving a cane around. Christian Slater does seem to be having some fun as one of the primary crooks involved. The film’s real main villain is Jason Momoa’s Keegan. Casting a future action star – albeit one who still hasn’t produced an iconic character – to play against Stallone seems like an intentional move. Momoa plays Keegan as an indistinct psycho. He enjoys killing and does it with finesse but there’s no personable meat on this character’s bones. He’s a preening, murderous bad guy, totally lacking in heart or soul.

All right, so the hero’s nothing special, the script is disposable, and the supporting players don’t make an impression. Does “Bullet to the Head” at least feature some cool action scene? Sadly, even that aspect is mostly forgettable. Walter Hill’s attempt to adapt to modern day action movie conventions are awkward. A shoot-out in a parking garage, and a car chase that follows, is overly shaky and difficult to follow. A tussle between Sly and a random bad guy inside a Turkish bath is cool in conception but, once again, not smoothly executed. Momoa’s presence seems to center the film a little. A fight between Bobo and Keegan in a bar bathroom is alright. Momoa executing a tattoo parlor full of people features some solid action beats, such as a guy getting flipped into a jukebox machine. The final fight has the hero and villain dueling with fire axe, a clever choice the movie needed more of. Too often though, the shoot-outs degrade into uninspired sequences of gun going off and people falling down.

“Bullet to the Head” certainly isn’t the throwback to bad ass action cinema that it was hyped as. The pairing of a legendary action director like Hill and a legendary action star like Sly should’ve produced something great. Instead, “Bullet to the Head” is a middling, forgettable affair. Its pleasures are fleeting and the film seems designed to leave the viewer’s head as soon as it enters. The reviews were largely negative and the box office was uninspiring, even in the competition lacking month of February. It seems, only a few years out from his latest come back, Sly was already squandering his potential again. [5/10]

[] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Asshole Hitman]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

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