Sylvester Stallone entertains the most these days when he’s poking fun at himself or the action film genre as in The Expendables or when he takes on a serious role as in Cop Land. Bullet to the Head leaves a lot to be desired as a mediocre action film that puts Stallone through the motions without any real payoff. It’s also quite hard to get behind Stallone’s character because he’s a cold-blooded killer who displays a touch of humanity.
When a movie gets its start as a graphic novel or comic book, I expect the quality of Sin City or The Walking Dead. Director Walter Hill and writer Alessandro Camon (cowriter of The Messenger) adapt the French graphic novel Du plomb dans la tete. Having not read the graphic novel, I can’t say whether Stallone is a good model for its main character, but I’m thankful that the filmmakers spared us from listening to Stallone speak French. James Bonomo (Stallone) aka “Jimmy Bobo” is a hit man in New Orleans who, along with partner Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda), is sent to take out Hank Greely (Holt McCallany) in a hotel room. Hank is a cop gone on a bender with a hooker and plenty of coke, but Jimmy messes up by not killing the hooker.
Before too long, tough guy Keegan (the imposing Jason Momoa) kills Louis in a bar and tries to ice Jimmy, too. When DC detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang of Fast & Furious and Fast Five) comes looking for Hank, Jimmy and Kwon join forces to find out who’s behind the murder of Louis and in charge of other crimes. This weak plot might have looked better in graphic novel form where the focus is on the art and the blood spatter, but in a 90-minute movie, there had better be something compelling to take you from action scene to action scene.
Sarah Shahi breathes some life into the film as Jimmy’s daughter, Lisa Bonomo, a tattoo artist who conveniently went to medical school so that she can patch up Kwon’s bullet holes. Things turn silly when Sarah and Kwon make googly eyes at each other. Christian Slater has evidently been away from the movies for a while. Well, don’t see this flick for him because he has a minor role as middle man Marcus Baptiste in the criminal hierarchy. The real criminal mastermind here was a delight for me to see as a Lost fan. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Mr. Eko in Lost) plays Robert Nkomo Morel with the kind of evil glee you’d expect from Keith David.
Action films are defined by their car chases, fight scenes and gunplay. Unfortunately, Bullet to the Head delivers a few titular shots but really doesn’t offer much that’s memorable. If anything, Stallone seems a bit too old for hand-to-hand fight scenes. A bathhouse fight with Brian Van Holt (Jimmy’s boss Ronnie Earl) is reminiscent of the better version in Eastern Promises. The best fight in the movie involves Stallone, Momoa and a couple of firemen’s axes, but even that gets cut short in a cheap way. This is a watchable film, but I’d much rather enjoy the intentional humor of The Expendables or its sequel than the forced humor here as if this was supposed to be a buddy film. Kwon’s hesitant cooperation with Jimmy doesn’t gel any more than his threats to take him in if he commits any other crimes after their teamwork ends.
Although the film is set in and was filmed in New Orleans, I didn’t get the feel of the city in this movie other than an elaborate costume party and the zyedco band in the bar. Jimmy and Kwon go to a costume shop before the party, and the best they could come up with are a couple of masks? Even the dumbest member of the gang could pick out someone with Jimmy’s physique in a mask. A film should take advantage of its setting when possible, and this movie ignored much of the Louisiana flavor right in front of the filmmakers’ eyes. Bullet to the Head probably describes what many moviegoers will beg for after seeing this film. It’s probably just a bridge between Stallone’s more high-profile projects.