Bullet to the Head

Posted by Michael Parsons on February 1, 2013 in / No Comments

 

(This review was originally published on February 1, 2013 at Reel Film News)

Sylvester Stallone plays disgruntled hitman Jimmy ‘Bobo’ Bonomo in “Bullet to the Head”, a pseudo-noir action flick that is really hard to take seriously. Director Walter Hill’s attempt at gritty realism is hindered by the central relationship of the story, which begins with Stallone’s cold-blooded contract killer crossing paths with a Washington, DC detective (played by Sung Kang of “Fast Five”) during a homicide investigation in New Orleans. The result is an unbalanced, poorly edited mess which finds the two men working together to take down a common enemy (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, BBC’s “Hunted”) and a ruthless mercenary named Keegan (Jason Momoa, 2011‘s “Conan the Barbarian”) who’s been contracted to do all the dirty work. Of course it comes across as an extremely simple premise; the stabbing death of Bonomo’s partner that triggers the whole thing is one barely significant variable in an ultra-contrived real estate development scheme (with the requisite smattering of police corruption, of course) that doesn’t even seem feasible in a world of acceptable plot holes. Seriously, when will bad guys learn to stop carrying around their secret plans on a flash drive?

98501_galOf the film’s many flaws, though, the cookie-cutter concept and Neanderthal mentality are not the most irritating, especially considering what we should expect from the next entry in Stallone’s latter-day career resurgence (and after suffering through the ridiculous “The Expendables 2”). In fact, this might have all worked out as a perfectly respectable action film if  even the slightest attention had been paid to the duo’s chemistry; accepting that these guys could co-exist for more than five minutes (in the close quarters of a car and with weapons, no less), is exhausting all on its own. Do they really need each other that bad? Kang is so low-key that it seems like he’s perpetually fighting off the effects of an Ambien, and Stallone incessantly mumbles archaic racial slurs like a bullfrog on Quaaludes (perhaps channeling Walt from “Grand Torino”). At least in that film, such dialogue served a purpose; here it seems that Alessandro Camon’s script just needed some filler, or perhaps a reason for Kang, who is Korean, to rib Stallone, who’s now 66, about his age. Either way, the creative mindset here could be summed up with a couple of excerpts from ‘Truly Tasteless Jokes’; it’s almost too dim-witted to be offensive.

When it’s not subjecting us to the sleepy verbal exchanges of the cranky, gun-toting odd couple, “Bullet to the Head” manages a few decent action sequences (and a small, hatable performance by Christian Slater as a maniacal sleazebag).  The violence is heavy and often overdone, and though it seems like Hill was going for a sort of mobster-esque brutality, the manufactured grittiness begins to feel a little spoofy (anyone who’s seen the trailer will know that there’s an axe battle in there. ‘Nuff said.). Plus, it turns out that Bobo isn’t as big a sociopath as we might have thought; not a big surprise, since Stallone is supposed to be the film’s main protagonist, but it’s too bad, because “Bullet” would have been much better as a ruthless one-man revenge flick than the half-assed buddy picture it turned out to be. In that vein, the film attempts to find some depth when we’re introduced to his daughter (Sarah Shahi, USA Network’s “Fairly Legal”), a tattoo artist who we think might be there to elicit some emotion from Stallone’s character; as it turns out she’s only around as collateral (and for Kang to ogle like he’s in first grade), but it softens the film’s impact nonetheless.

While the film isn’t busy over-justifying its title, it forgets about almost everything else. Hill’s penchant for pugilistic partnerships exemplified in “48 Hrs.”, another bi-racial, cop/criminal ‘buddy’ picture, seems to have faded over the last three decades; perhaps it’s because times have changed, but the dynamic in “Bullet to the Head” is woefully flat and immature by comparison.

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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