BBFC Classification: 18
Director: Walter Hill
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Momoa, Christian Slater, Jon Seda, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi, Brian Van Holt
Remember when action films weren’t hyper-realistic and didn’t try to throw you right into the centre of the action? Remember there were always some witty lines to break up the intense violence but when the violence came it was brutal? Do you remember that there was a clear line between the goodies and the baddies, and the goodies had muscles and didn’t wear suits? Yeah? Well then, chances are you might like Bullet to the Head, an attempt by Sylvester Stallone at keeping the essence of ’80s action films alive.
Stallone plays Jimmy Bobo, a veteran hitman hired to do a hit on a corrupt cop with his partner Louis (Jon Seda). After the job is done Louis is murdered by Keegan (Jason Momoa – Conan the Barbarian), a hulking gun-for-hire who also tries to kill Bobo but fails. As Jimmy starts to investigate who double-crossed him and Louis he is approached by Washington D.C. Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) who is in New Orleans investigating the death of the corrupt cop. Kwon approaches Jimmy to help him solve the case but Jimmy isn’t too fond of cops and refuses, although a failed hit on Kwon forces Jimmy to re-evaluate his thinking and the pair team up. However, Kwon is a by-the-book policeman and is fully intent on turning Jimmy in to the authorities once he has his man, but he soon learns that in Jimmy’s world there are no laws and you do what you have to do to get the job done.
Directed by action veteran Walter Hill (Southern Comfort/48 Hrs.), Bullet to the Head is, on the surface, a meat-headed no-brainer that glorifies brutal violence, but look a little deeper and you’ll discover… that’s exactly what it is! And how unapologetic it is with all of its head shots, lung-puncturing stab wounds and axe fights covering the screen with all sorts of bodily matter. Not that it’s at all shoddy-looking or rough around the edges as Hill’s expert direction and visual flair give the film a stylish look without being over-stylized.
Which is all well and good but most of the props must go to Sylvester Stallone who, at 66 years old when this was made, shows no sign of letting any of that muscle turn to flab anytime soon. Whereas fellow veteran action star Arnold Schwarzenegger still has a giant screen presence but moves like a man whose joints have taken a pounding with years of weight training, Sly still moves with a swagger and confidence that he can still pull these roles off. It also helps that he slimmed down and toned up for the part, and regardless of how you feel about middle-aged men getting tattoos, his look is pretty awesome. Apart from looking good, Sly also has pretty good comic timing in his interplay with Sung Kang. Anyone who has seen Tango & Cash knows that, given the right lines, Sly can give an amusing delivery without resorting to cringeworthy puns and he has a few of them here, but the simmering temperament that keeps Jimmy Bobo on edge is never far away and he switches from cynical old-timer to sharp professional with consummate ease.
Jason Momoa is also very good in his role as the brutal Keegan. A role that probably would have been played by Dolph Lundgren 25 years ago, Momoa proves he has the chops to go toe-to-toe with a screen presence such as Sly and isn’t just the guy from the Conan the Barbarian remake. The very hot Sarah Shahi is great as Jimmy Bobo’s tattooist-cum-medical fixer but the only slight let-down in the casting is Sung Kang, who, when he isn’t trading verbal blows with Stallone, doesn’t have much of a presence. Maybe it’s because his character is written that way but his whiny performance is only a step or two away from being a Kevin the teenager “It’s just not fair!” tirade – even Sly looks like he wants to put him across his knee and give him a damn good spanking. Also worth noting is that at no point does Sly say “I’m too old for this”, although his advanced years are referred to but it’s more with his attitude to technology rather than his physical age. It’s a small gripe but that whole age thing does start to grate after you’ve heard it a dozen times throughout the latest wave of action films and thankfully it isn’t as painful as it has been elsewhere.
Overall, Bullet to the Head is a brainless (in a good way), violent, funny thrill-ride starring one of the greats of the genre on top form. Anyone going into this expecting the complex plot twists of the Bourne films or the political correctness of the recent Bond movies will not be catered for as Bullet to the Head positively revels in the fact that Jimmy Bobo likes to kill people and that Sylvester Stallone is very good at playing characters that kill people. Naturally something so archaic isn’t going to appeal to everybody but if you have a fondness in your heart for other mismatched partner action films like Red Heat, Tango & Cash, Lethal Weapon or 48 Hrs. then Bullet to the Head is an excellent reminder of how to do throwaway fun properly.
Special Features: Bullet to the Head: Mayhem Inc. featurette.
UK Release Date: 3rd June 2013