Bullet to the Head

Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone) is a career criminal who specializes in being a problem solver for various crime syndicates.  He and his partner Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda) track down and eliminate the enemies of their bosses.  After one job, the pair goes to meet their contact at a New Orleans area bar to get paid.  While waiting, Jimmy goes the restroom while Louis drinks at the bar.  Louis is approached by Keegan (Jason Momoa) who quickly and efficiently stabs Louis to death without anyone noticing.  Keegan then goes after Jimmy in the restroom but Jimmy sees him coming and the pair fight.  Keegan runs away when Jimmy gets his hand on a gun.  Later, Jimmy gets a phone call from Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), a Washington DC detective.  Kwon is looking into the death of his former partner Hank Greely (Holt McCallany) who had gone bad years earlier, getting involved in drugs and other shady doings.  Greely is the man Jimmy and Louis had killed just prior to Louis being murdered.  Noticing the proximity of the killings, Taylor conducts a computer search of Louis’ known associates and learns about Jimmy.  Taylor contacts Jimmy and sets up a meeting where they trade a few insults.  Taylor wants to work with Jimmy to find the men who ordered the killings of their respective partners.  Jimmy declines but then saves Taylor’s life when two dirty New Orleans policemen follow Taylor into a parking garage and try to kill him.  Taylor is shot in the chest and Jimmy takes him to a tattoo parlor run by his estranged daughter Lisa (Sarah Shahi).  Lisa has had some medical training and is able to remove the bullet and stitch up Taylor’s wound.  The hit man and the detective reach an uneasy understanding and begin working together to figure out who wanted their partner’s dead and why.

You would be forgiven if you mistook “Bullet to the Head” for any other Sylvester Stallone action movie from the 1980’s.  Aside from the presence and use of smart phones, not much has changed in the last three decades.  Stallone is the lone wolf facing enormous odds who must fight against a formidable enemy with greater resources.  It’s like “First Blood” in the Big Easy.  But where that film had a broken, traumatized and sympathetic hero; “Bullet to the Head” has an old man who finds the younger generation annoying.  At any time I was expecting Stallone to yell at kids to get off his lawn.
Stallone and his co-star Sung Kang are supposed to be the Odd Couple of the action picture.  They come off mostly as just odd.  Kang’s Taylor maintains his goody-two-shoes, by-the-book persona through the entire movie.  He’s constantly berating Jimmy for being a violent crook, threatening throughout the movie to arrest him, even after those qualities have saved his life.  Somewhere along the line, you’d expect Taylor to begin to soften towards his new partner and his methods which prove to be nothing but effective.  The upside of Kang’s one-note character is it gives Stallone plenty of opportunities to drop in catchy one-liners at opportune times.  This is the script’s definition of humor because the majority of the time it stays pretty grim.
Speaking of grim, let’s discuss the script which does very little but get the characters from one action scene to the next.  There isn’t much in the way of character development or even a coherent plot.  The reason for all the mayhem in the film is the efforts of a land developer and his lawyer to buy and develop blighted areas of New Orleans.  They bribe various local and federal officials to make sure everything runs smoothly.  As I’ve described it here, it makes a bit of sense; however, as it plays out in the movie it is complicated and overblown to the point of bursting.  The naiveté of Kang’s character is laughable as we see him fall into a trap of trusting corrupt cops instead of his career criminal new partner.  If New Orleans and Louisiana are known for anything, it’s government corruption at all levels.  One need only look at the recent past to find several elected officials who have been caught with their hands out looking for a bribe to grease the wheels of progress.  Using corruption in Louisiana as a plot point is about as unique as suggesting there might be performance enhancing drugs used by some baseball players.  It isn’t very surprising.
While Jason Momoa makes a very credible villain, pretty much everyone else seems to be doing the very minimum they have to for their roles.  Stallone appears to be doing an impression of someone doing a Stallone impression.  He’s rarely looked more stiff and uninvolved in a movie.  Sung Kang gives it his all as the straight-laced Taylor but the script doesn’t give him much to do other than chide Jimmy about killing people instead of turning them over to the police.  Sarah Shahi is on hand to try and humanize Jimmy but her real purpose is to be the damsel in distress.  She also isn’t given much to do.  The rest of the cast, including Christian Slater and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, does what they can with what there is to work with and that isn’t much.
“Bullet to the Head” is rated R for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use.  We see numerous people shot, beaten and stabbed over the course of the film.  Much of this is rather bloody.  There are a few brief instances of topless women and the occasional bare backside on screen.  Drug use is limited to an early scene of a man in a hotel room snorting some kind of drug.  Foul language is common throughout the film.
“Bullet to the Head” has some very tense and exciting action sequences including the axe fight featured in the trailer and TV commercials.  There are several other fights, gun battles and explosions in the film.  Unfortunately, there aren’t enough good moments between the violence to make the film much fun as an action picture.  There’s not much chemistry between Stallone and Kang to turn it into an Odd Couple-like buddy action/comedy.  Aside from a few well-choreographed fights, there’s not much to recommend about the film.
“Bullet to the Head” gets two guitars out of five.
Three new films and a 3D IMAX re-release are up for your consideration this week.  Vote for the film I’ll see and review next.
Identity Thief—Florida resident Diana (Melissa McCarthy) has a luxurious lifestyle as the queen of retail, buying whatever strikes her fancy -- and it's all free, thanks to Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Jason Bateman), a guy from Denver whose identity she stole.
Quartet—Once-popular opera diva Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) creates a stir with her arrival at Beecham House, a home for retired performers. No one feels the uproar more than Reginald (Tom Courtenay), Jean's ex-husband, who still stings from her long-ago infidelity
Side Effects—A young, successful New York couple’s world unravels when a new drug prescribed by Emily's psychiatrist  – intended to treat anxiety – has unexpected side effects.
Top Gun:  An IMAX 3D Experience—The story of an elite group of pilots competing to be the best in their class and earn the title of “TOP GUN” captured the imagination of a generation and earned a worldwide box office of over $350 million upon its release.  Feel the need for speed in IMAX 3D.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any movie of his choice currently playing in theatres.
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