After narrowly escaping a double cross that leaves his partner dead, contract killer and all around bad guy James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone), or Jimmy Bobo as he is known around his hometown of New Orleans, goes on the hunt for the man who hired the merciless hitman Keegan (Jason Momoa) but gets sidetracked when out of state detective Kwon (Sung Kang) comes poking his nose around while investigating the murder of a local lowlife that Bobo was contracted to kill. With Bobo needing a way to track down his former employers and Kwon with the connections to find them and on the run from a corrupt police force that only Bobo can protect him from, both men reluctantly join forces and turn the Big Easy upside down in search of the people who want each of them dead.
There is a certain thrill that comes with the fact that we have three classic style action films with three classic action stars all coming out within a month of each other. First was Arnold Schwarzenegger in the fun throwback actioner "The Last Stand" and later this month we will have Bruce Willis reprising the role that made him famous with "A Good Day to Die Hard". Between those two releases we have director Walter Hill's "Bullet to the Head" starring a very old but very capable Sylvester Stallone doing what he does best, crush skulls, crack jokes and pulverize anyone who gets in his way. Hill is clearly attempting to either recapture or recreate that signature buddy cop style he forged back during the 80's with films like "48 hrs" and "Red Heat", but while he certainly nails that same vibe, problems arise with a nearly non-existent storyline and a distractingly bad mismatching for his two lead actors.
There was a time when films like "Bullet to the Head" ruled cinemas. Watching such questionable classics as "Dead Bang" (directed by John Frankenheimer!), "Next of Kin", "Action Jackson", any Steven Seagal flick and even Stallone's own cop on a rampage flick "Cobra" (all of which currently hold a 50% or less rating on Rotten Tomatoes compared to Bullet's 46%), will make anyone not alive during the 80's wonder how these things ever made it to the theater. Their concepts were beyond simplistic, but that is how they were meant to be. They were made solely to provide cheap thrills and depending which action star was up for grabs at the moment, they quickly became starring vehicles to add to their ever increasingly large (and mostly forgettable) film catalogs. There is a reason why those style of films died off and it isn't because people suddenly stopped making them, its because people got tired of them and simply stopped watching them.
There are of course exceptions to this rule, the buddy cop formula for example proved to be more successful and enduring than anyone ever imagined. Despite being mined for all it was worth, it prevailed and the mere existence of something like "Bullet to the Head" is a testament to that fact. It's a simple formula to replicate in theory, just bring together to opposing personalities and let them clash for our entertainment. But in reality it is a recipe for disaster if the casting isn't given the proper care it deserves. For every successful buddy cop duo ("Lethal Weapon", "Rush Hour", "Bad Boys") there are total disasters ("Showtime", "Double Team", "Cop and a Half"). Guess which category "Bullet to the Head" falls into?
It really does come down the casting when all is said and done and Stallone isn't the problem here, it is Kang. Whether it doesn't work because the character is underwritten, miscast or there just isn't any chemistry between him and Stallone, the problem remains that they are one of the most bizarrely different but strangely uninteresting buddy duos ever conceived. It may sound harsh to lay the blame on Kang who admittedly has plenty of charisma to pull off the role, but watching him on screen with Stallone, who takes every opportunity he can to steal each scene they are in together, it becomes readily apparent that the blame lies with him and his extremely plain as water detective. Luckily Stallone carries the film enough for the both of them which limits the negative impact of Kang's yawn inducing detective, but just by a little.
Casting Stallone in this role was an inspired choice. Not only because of his involvement with films of this ilk from his heyday, but also because he has always done well playing the part of a bad man with a conscious. The anti-hero has been his bread and butter for a while and the character of Bobo which as written is sort of bland, really pops with Stallone in the role. His witty remarks and quips are almost always spot on and at the very least inspire a giggle or two for how corny they are. Every time Stallone is on screen by himself the film begins to get a pulse but whenever we see him in that car (where they spend most of their time) with Kang who is constantly googling info on the bad guys (seriously....he does that), the film begins to flatline again. That could also be attributed to the cookie cutter story that was cooked up as well though.
As for that story...well, what's here is serviceable but don't be surprised if your mind starts to wander and you begin building your grocery list in your head after a while. It's a revenge flick first and foremost, but like most revenge flicks it needs time to establish characters like Bobo's estranged daughter Lisa (Sarah Shahi) who will clearly be either kidnapped, killed or otherwise inconvenienced because of her father's dealings later in the film. The rest of the time is taken up with our heroes systematically hunting down the mystery man they are after which includes going to a bath house...and killing someone, going to a party and kidnapping someone....and killing them, reporting to a more than obvious dirty cop....and killing him, and then ultimately finding the men responsible (Christian Slater and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje)...and killing them. All of them die with a bullet to the head of course, but that is all there is though. When they are dead, it's done.
There is one other person they are after played by Jason Momoa, which other than Stallone is the only other saving grace for the film, whose gleefully evil hitman is just having a ball with his role. The poorly conceived and received Conan reboot from a couple years back may have had very little redeeming values to it but it did successfully prove that Momoa is someone to watch out for. His role as the hitman Keegan is yet another shining example (and reminder) of why this guy really needs to break out and be on his own. As fun as he was to watch as the bad guy, he would be even more fun to watch as the good guy in a properly written role. Heck, if they had gone ahead and made him Stallone's partner here this may have turned out much better. Think about that for a second, how many buddy cop movies do we have with TWO muscle bound freaks?
There is a certain throwback charm to the film's simplicity and a few noteworthy scenes (such as a really cool axe fight near the end) that will likely make some feel as though they got their moneys worth. But sadly, most of those same people will start to get the sinking feeling as they walk out of the auditorium that perhaps they didn't really enjoy it as much as they had thought. As the film quickly begins to fade from memory and be replaced with more important thoughts (such as which way the exit is), they will come to the conclusion that perhaps their time would have been better spent doing ANYTHING else.
That is the number one problem with "Bullet to the Head", it's just forgettable in every conceivable way. Couple that with the poor casting, the limp story and some plodding detective work and you have a recipe for blandness. While it is certainly cool seeing Stallone going back to his roots for a quick thrill, all it does is serve as a reminder why we don't get movies like this anymore. Even if all the pieces had come together, it still wouldn't register a blip on the radar with most of today's movie going audiences. In the end, "Bullet to the Head" is a decent but wholly unremarkable relic of an era of filmmaking that has long gone past its expiration date.