Action director Walter Hill returns to the genre after years absent with Bullet to the Head. Sylvester Stallone leads the film with a bad-as-nails performance that is very reminiscent of early 90s action films. Bullet to the Head works much better than expected thanks to Stallone’s ability to mostly carry the film and Hill’s clean cut and simple direction. Bullet to the Head rests confidently on a level that most modern action films fail to reach. It’s a quick one-two punch that’s loaded with action and stiff one-liners.
James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) is a seasoned hitman that’s getting crankier by the day. His partner seems to be the only one that can put up with him on a day-to-day basis, unless you count his infrequent visits with his daughter as a sign of true love. Bonomo gets himself into a bit of trouble when he and his partner fail to fully complete a hit. They leave one loose end that presents itself as the reason why Bonomo’s partner gets clipped, leaving him out for revenge with not a clue as to who did it and why.
He tangles with an out-of-town cop by the name of Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) and together they slowly start climbing the corruption ladder. The two are an odd pairing though, because Bonomo absolutely hates cops and Kwon doesn’t care much for Bonomo’s line of work either. They don’t trust each other at all, but they both understand that they need to work together if they hope to find out who killed Bonomo’s partner.
Bullet to the Head is very much a traditional revenge action flick. Walter Hill hasn’t directed a film in over a decade and I believe that’s part of why Bullet to the Head works as well as it does. Hill brings a very basic and almost repetitive direction to the film and by doing so he manages to clip almost all of the fat and focus on the meaty action. The story is literally spelled out via Stallone voice-overs (they’re pretty hilarious, especially when equipped with one of his many mug shots) and anything else you need to know is picked up as the film moves from one shootout to another.
This film isn’t afraid to get mean either. Stallone’s Bonomo is a complete asshole. You only like him because it’s Stallone playing another role that can only be played by Stallone, but if you were to meet Bonomo in the streets you’d probably say nothing but bad things to him. He’s a stubborn bastard, but he’s got one hell of a moral code. It’s great watching Stallone take on a character that doesn’t feel the weight of the modern world. Sure, Bonomo is getting old and he is constantly ridiculed by Kwon; who pretty much calls him a dinosaur, but not once does Bonomo let it get the best of him. In fact, he uses these moments to prove just how relevant he and his old-school methods really are.
The Last Stand worked well when it was poking at Schwarzenegger’s old age, but Bullet to the Head is wise to skip all of that and cut right to the chase.
The violence on display in this film is top notch B grade material. Take away the CGI bullet holes and you got yourself a shoot ’em up flick for the ages. Axe fights and head-shots make up most of the action in Bullet to the Head and that’s great, because the film can fully live up to its title. Not a second of the film’s action is wasted on pussy shootouts or chopped up fighting that’s hard to make out because of the camera. Bullet to the Head is all about Stallone walking into a room and shooting maybe five or six guys in the head and then going on to fight the physical specimen known as Jason Momoa with a knife.
It’s a tall order, but Stallone and Momoa make it work, with Christian Slater even enhancing the film’s slimy list of bad guys.
Bullet to the Head gets by mostly on its quick and fast approach. Walter Hill wastes no time setting things up and Stallone certainly has not a single problem filling the shoes of an aged assassin on the hunt for blood. The only real problem with the film is co-star Sung Kang and his character’s one-dimensional and slightly stereotypical feel.
There’s just nothing about Kwon that doesn’t feel like it was lifted from a 90s buddy cop movie and at times Kang’s performance just doesn’t gel as well with Stallone as it should. The two are complete opposites and they get that point across, but the film never reaches that point where they’re working on the same page and instead Stallone’s off doing his thing while Kang occasionally budges in with an idea that he got from his cellphone. If this is new age crime solving vs. old then I’d say we’re completely screwed.
If you’re looking for one hell of a double feature than try doubling Bullet to the Head with The Last Stand. Schwarzenegger’s solo outing is much hollower in the acting and story, but creative with its camera work and fluid direction. Bullet to the Head feels more like it was lifted directly from the 90s, with less joking and more classic lines like one that involves Stallone threatening to kill someone with a rock. It’s great, it’s dumb and it makes for a slightly more entertaining piece of action cinema.
Bullet to the Head – 7.5/10