CATEGORIES Movie NewsThis weekend, the skull-shredding new Sylvester Stallone opus, "Bullet to the Head," explodes across theaters nationwide. A mismatched buddy movie that also happens to be incredibly violent, it pairs Sly (as a troubled hitman) with "Fast and the Furious" franchise breakout Sung Kang (as a troubled policeman) as they track down gangsters and crooked cops...or something. The plot is pretty minimal and what's there is sort of incomprehensible. But it's not about plot anyway, it's about breaking people's faces open.
After the failure of "The Last Stand" earlier this month, which starred fellow old-timer action star Arnold Schwarzenegger (Planet Hollywood compatriots Sly and Arnold were recently paired in the disappointing "Expendables 2," playing wrinkled dudes who fire machine guns), will "Bullet to the Head" suffer a similar fate? Above-average genre filmmakers were responsible for both projects (South Korean director Kim Jee-woon did "The Last Stand" and American action auteur Walter Hill tackled "Bullet to the Head") and both seem like movies that narrowly escaped premiering on home video.
So is "Bullet to the Head" worth checking out, if only for some blood-splattered exploitation? Or is it better skipped altogether? Read on to find out!
PRO: It Is What It Is "Bullet in the Head" is one thing, above all else, and that is... "Bullet in the Head." The opening seconds of the movie are the studio logos getting obliterated by a bullet that zooms toward the screen. This is a pretty apt prologue to the movie you're about the see, which is more or less a grade-Z action film that, if you were tuckered out and came across on premium cable one night, would probably hold your attention until you fell asleep. Sly is an assassin whose partner is double-crossed after a job, forcing him to team up with a detective to take down those responsible. The movie is beyond linear, with the two mismatched dudes (who totally don't get along!) interrogating various underworld types and then killing them in explosively violent ways. It's not exactly challenging but it isn't boring either -- it's a balls-to-the-walls, rip-your-freaking-throat-out action movie that promises something and totally delivers on that promise.
CON: You Can Tell Someone Tampered With It After The Fact For all that's good about "Bullet to the Head" -- and, amazingly, there is a lot -- there is an equal amount of annoying stuff. Most of this had to do with the fact that the movie had an infamously troubled production history, with original costar Thomas Jane suggesting a replacement for the original director (Wayne Kramer, who directed the Oscar-nominated "The Cooler") in Walter Hill, who has crafted such genre classics as "The Warriors" and "Southern Comfort." When Hill became attached, he and producer Joel Silver promptly fired Jane, insisting on Sung Kang for the role because the movie needed more international appeal. Filming ended in the spring of 2011, with the release date indefinitely delayed, at which point Hill's original cut was reconfigured without his approval. This would be all okay if the Frankenstein's monster that is this movie didn't show its seams, but oh baby does it ever, particularly in some clunky neo-noir-ish voiceover, painfully bad Photoshop work and transitional sequences that wouldn't be out of place on one of the "CSI" shows. All of this suggests someone other than Hill -- who is known for stylistic flourishes but a pretty standardized editorial approach -- had a hand in this thing.
PRO: Sylvester Stallone is in Fine Form Stallone is just Stallone here. Some of his lines of dialogue are so absurd that you imagine the screenwriter (Alessandro Camon, who co-wrote "The Messenger") just coming up with stuff that he thought would be funny if Sly was the one saying it -- things like "I don't have a problem with cats, I just don't like dander" or "Give him a band aid and a Blow Pop." Also, for all his gnarled looks and barely comprehensible speaking voice, Stallone is in full-on movie star role here, reminding you of a time when a movie could be a blockbuster if it just included his last name on the poster. This role harkens back to things like the original "Death Race 2000," when you could tell that one day this dude would rule the world. Oh, and Sly's character's name is Jimmy BoBo. Yes, you read that correctly.
CON: Everybody Else is Kind of Bland For all of Stallone's nostalgic mega-watt oomph, the rest of the cast kind of suffers. While Sung Kang is pretty great as Sly's foil, people like Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (aka "Lost''s Mr. Eko) as a villainous crime boss and Christian Slater as a slimy lawyer, fail to add much spark. Even Jason Momoa, out of Westeros but still rocking a lot of hair, doesn't do a whole lot as the crazed killer who knifes Sly's partner (played by one of the dudes from "Treme"). It would have been nice to see the more colorful Walter Hill regulars occupy the roles of the various supporting goons.
PRO: It Was Shot in New Orleans and They Don't Pretend it's Anywhere Else Thanks to lucrative tax incentives, a number of major movies have been filming in New Orleans and surrounding areas in Louisiana (the list is literally endless). The problem with most of these movies is that they're trying to pass off the area as somewhere else (Kansas City in "Looper," Texas in "Killer Joe," even New York City in "Broken City"). However, "Bullet in the Head" is proudly set in New Orleans and it's refreshing. Like the rest of the movie, it's very honest and forthcoming with its crumminess.