Movie Review: Bullet to the Head

I’m a massive fan of Sylvester Stallone, having loved quite a few of his movies and enjoyed all of what I’ve seen him in (although I have chosen to avoid the Get Carter remake and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot), as such I’m definitely the target audience for this flick, which will keep established fans happy, even if it’s unlikely to lure any new ones in.

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The movie has a decidedly old school feel, with the plot being traditional buddy action fare-

Stallone plays Jimmy Bobo, a Louisiana based hitman. Jimmy and his partner, Louis (Jon Seda) are hired to take out a lowlife called Greely, which they do, but Jimmy can’t shoot a hooker who’s also in the hotel room and leaves her alive, something he fears will cause problems. While waiting to meet their contact they are attacked by Keegan (Jason Momoa), an ex-special forces soldier working as a mercenary, Keegan kills Louis but after a fight with Jimmy he flees.

Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), a Washington DC based detective arrives in town to investigate Greely’s death, who turns out to be an ex-cop who went rogue. With Louis in the same morgue Kwon believes the two deaths are linked, and meeting with resistance from the local cops, tracks down Jimmy, who is reluctant to help.

However, after saving Kwon from thugs and taking him to get patched up by his daughter, Lisa (Sarah Shahi), Jimmy agrees to work with Kwon. Jimmy’s relationship with Lisa is strained and Kwon’s attraction to her doesn’t help their developing partnership.

They work their way up the chain and discover that Greely was killed because he was trying to blackmail a dodgy businessman, Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and Keegan was to kill Louis and Jimmy to cover their tracks.

As they close in on their quarry Jimmy and Kwon clash over how they should proceed, with Jimmy planning to eliminate everyone while Kwon maintaining that they need to be brought to justice, Jimmy included. The situation is exacerbated when Keegan snatches Lisa in order to get back Greely’s evidence from Jimmy. Can they rescue her? Who’s path will they follow? And if they succeed what will Kwon do about Jimmy?

The answers to these questions are fairly obvious, but while the film is far from perfect it succeeds as a fairly entertaining action movie.

This is down largely to Stallone’s performance, as he brings his easy charm to the role of the fairly detached career criminal. He ensures that Jimmy gives off the impression of being someone who’s seen it all before and approaches his job in a fairly laid back way, with this manner that shows he’s rather world-weary. He shows moments of supreme ruthlessness and it’s clear that years as a criminal have eliminated any squeamishness about killing, which he seems to view as just being his job.

Despite his age Stallone convinces as the hired killer, he’s no longer as cartoonishly muscular as he was in the middle part of his career, but he’s still in great shape and despite being leaner he still looks like someone who can handle himself. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that as he ages Stallone looks like someone who’s been put through the mill, and carries himself like a badass.

Stallone as Jimmy- Badass

Stallone as Jimmy- Badass

While he’s comfortable killing he still exhibits some heroic qualities most notably his compassion for the hooker and also his loyalty to his ex partner, he may try to underplay it at times or make out that his mission is motivated by self-interest but there’s a sense that he genuinely liked Louis and want’s revenge. There’s also something rather touching in his relationship with Lisa, and Jimmy’s inability to connect properly other than showing his concern in heavy handed ways.

Stallone also benefits from having a great villain to play against in the form of Momoa’s Keegan, who’s shown to be very different from Jimmy. Both are skilled killers and comfortable around death, but there’s a distinct feeling that Keegan enjoys it far more than Jimmy does. Momoa plays Keegan with this kind of intense, barely contained rage and the character is shown to be motivated purely by his desire for fighting. Momoa also succeeds in giving the character a bit of dangerous charisma that stops him from just being a thug.

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Physically Momoa is astonishing, a towering behemoth of muscle he strides through the film leaving a trail of destruction in his wake, but when he clashes with Jimmy the fights are fairly believable, as we’re shown that despite the size difference Jimmy is pretty tough and can take a beating, as well as being a down-and-dirty street fighter.

The action sequences are handled well, and the whole film has a rather old school vibe to it, possibly due to the direction of Walter Hill, who’s made a fair few solid action flicks. Hill avoids the fast cutting and over-the-top flourishes of modern directors, and it really works for the film, which is paced well and allows things to unfold in a way that’s easy to follow.

The film has it’s flaws though, and one of the major ones is the character of Kwon. While Kang does his best and handles the banter well enough with Stallone, their buddy duo never quite clicks due to the fact that it’s Jimmy who does most of the work. I know that this is often the case with buddy duos, with one being the maverick and the other serving either as a straight man (Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon) or as out-and-out comic relief (Chris Tucker’s Carter in Rush Hour), but they usually play some role in the duo.

Here however the split is about 85-15 in favour of Jimmy, and while this is understandable it’s a shame that Kwon is sidelined quite so much. Yes, he’s intended to be the uptight cop trying to restrain Jimmy’s more hands on approach to justice, but he’s deprived of even being a good copper, as we’re shown he gets most of his info from the internet on his phone. While this shows the difference between the two main characters and shows just how behind Jimmy is, it kind of makes the partner character look week and useless. If he has no clear skills why the hell is Jimmy taking him along? The film would have been better served by building up Kwon’s role or at least making him a bit smarter.

It feels like an opportunity wasted and as though the filmmakers knew that Stallone could carry the film, but it would be nice if the partnership had been a little bit more even.

The other opportunity wasted is the location, with New Orleans’ sweltering heat and dive bars not getting a showing, aside from a rather cool blues-inflected soundtrack the film could be set anywhere and it’s a shame that the ambience of the area isn’t used to greater effect. Even Dracula 2000 made better use of the city.

But all in the all Hill pulls it off and makes a film which while never being groundbreaking still ticks a lot of the boxes and will work for action and Stallone fans, especially as the Italian Stallion shows that he can still carry a film by himself.

Verdict: Despite some flaws in the execution this is a fairly well made action movie, with Stallone in good form as a world weary killer and Momoa impressive as his nemesis. The action sequences are executed well, and while it’s not going to blow you away completely it’ll still make a good movie for an evening in with some pizza and some cans. 6/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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