2013 is the year of the Aging Action Star revival. The Expendables doesn’t technically doesn’t count as it is an ensemble piece; Bullet to the Head follows The Last Stand as another movie in the early days of the new year featuring an older action star in another film in the style of their bygone era. Thankfully, director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hrs), with the help of the legendary Sylvester Stallone, has delivered one hell of an action movie.
Based on the French graphic novel of the same name (except in French), Bullet to the Head follows Jimmy Bobo (Stallone), who works as a contract killer before a sour hit leaves his partner dead and his head in the crosshairs of vicious killer Keegan (Jason Momoa). Meanwhile, visiting cop Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), who also lost a partner, has suddenly become very interested in Bobo’s situation, and offers the killer the opportunity to work together to take down the men responsible for the deaths of those close to them. Bobo begrudgingly agrees, and the resentful pair set out to track down criminals Robert Nkomo Morel (Adewale Akinnuoya-Agbaje) and Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater), as well as get revenge for the deaths of their respective partners, albeit in their own unique ways.
Perhaps the biggest red flag for the film prior to its release was its potential to morph into a “buddy film” in which the two characters end up becoming best friends. This is not the case here. Kwon and Bobo never stop hating each other throughout the entire film, and any collaboration is begrudging and resentful. It’s like the anti-buddy film, with a handful of encounters almost resulting in the men killing each other out of hatred. It wouldn’t have worked if Stallone and Kang didn’t have good chemistry, but the actors play off each other excellently here. Kwon’s resentment and shock at Bobo’s violent style, as well as Bobo’s hatred for the law (and for Kwon’s omnipresent BlackBerry phone), cause the characters to clash constantly in a way that keeps the film moving forward even when the bodies aren’t piling up.
Sylvester Stallone is the live-action Honey Badger here, as the ultimate defiant killing machine. He’s a total dick to nearly every character in the movie, and has a snarky comeback to anything someone says to him. He’s practically unstoppable once he’s in motion, and he brings the pain in ways we haven’t seen since 2008’s Rambo. In short, the actor, far from slowing down, is better than ever. True, it’s a little weird to see a super-muscular 66-year-old man with tattoos, but that shit looks badass no matter what your age.
RAAA GIVE ME ROIDZ
The action hits like a freight train. True to his style, director Walter Hill doesn’t shy away from the concussive violence. Deaths are abrupt, shocking, and brutal, bolstered by startling sound mixing that drives the bass and delivers eardrum-shattering gunshots. The violence isn’t always funny thanks to how startling it can be, but it’s always intense. Guns punch gaping holes in bodies, and fisticuffs are brutal and frequently result in broken props. Forget CGI blood, as well; as far as I could tell, most of the kills were done with good, old-fashioned squibs. The final fight between Bobo and Keegan, in which the men clash with axes, is one for the ages—it’s brutal, intense, and over-the-top, delivering exactly what the final battle in Expendables 2 should have given us, but failed to do.
Finally, the soundtrack is worth noting—it feels like a hard rock band’s mellow jam session with one member doing too much heroin and deciding to whip out the harmonica. It looks like heroin was a good idea in this case, as the hard rock with the overarching harmonica works perfectly
Still, I could have done without the tired “lawyers and cops are corrupt” plotline involving businessmen wanting to do evil things that make them rich. I supposed it makes sense for the plot, and it logically leads to Bobo being hunted by the villains, but it’s getting exceedingly more difficult to swallow these recycled plotlines of politicians, policemen, and lawyers doing their corrupt things. Luckily, this problem is very minimal, as all it does is frame the overarching revenge story that occupies most of Bobo’s time.
Bullet to the Head is a satisfyingly brutal, frequently entertaining action flick. Like the best action movie of last year, Dredd, it does not reinvent the wheel when it comes to the action genre, but sticks to its guns and pulls off everything extremely well. This is a muscular, unapologetically violent action movie that feels like classic Stallone.
Take a Drink: every time Bobo makes a joke at Kwon’s expense.
Take a Drink: every time someone gets shot squarely in the forehead.
Take a Drink: every time you see a tattoo.
Do a Shot: every time Bobo takes a drink of whiskey.