Mark Reviews Movies

Bullet to the Head


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Walter Hill

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jason Momoa, Christian Slater

MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use)

Running Time: 1:31

Release Date: 2/1/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 31, 2013

One must give credit where it is due, and Bullet to the Head at least deserves some credit for dismissing its useless plot as soon as the movie reaches its climactic eruption of senseless violence. There really is no point to the movie's story beyond getting its heroes to each, subsequent step of their investigation. Violence unfolds, and with the help of information obtained before that blood flows, they move on to the next situation, where they once again cause of get caught up in some more bloodshed.

Until the finale, the movie serves as an ongoing debate between two characters and their philosophies. One stands for law and order; the other stands for order and his self-appointed power to obtain it. One is skittish about killing people and would much rather arrest them to see that justice might prevail; the other routinely kills those who give him the information. The movie, again, is called Bullet to the Head (There are actually many bullets to many heads), so it should only take one guess to determine the side with which it aligns.

Set in New Orleans ("Crescent City," everyone calls it), the movie follows James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone), aka "Jimmy Bobo," a contract killer with only a couple of reservations about his job. The main one—that he won't kill women or children—comes to play in the opening sequence in which he and his partner (Jon Seda) kill a man in his hotel room. Bobo leaves a prostitute, who is hiding in the shower, alive. The decision has no impact on the plot; it's only here to show that Bobo isn't a completely unconscionable sort (The existence of his daughter, played by Sarah Shahi, is the other thing that makes him seem human, and ultimately, she's only around to serve as a damsel in distress).

Bobo has a bad past entailing 26 arrests and two convictions—a fact stated twice (once in voiceover and the other by another character) in case we miss it—though how many people he's actually killed is left unspoken. This time, in the hotel room, it was a crooked cop from Washington, D.C., and Bobo's contractor, a crime boss (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) with a shady gentrification plan, wants to clean up the loose ends of the hit. One of his thugs, a mountain of a man named Keegan (Jason Momoa), kills Bobo's partner. Bobo escapes and wants revenge.

Meanwhile, a spotless cop from D.C. named Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) has arrived in town to investigate the murder of his former co-worker. The trail quickly leads to Bobo—thanks to the help of a ridiculously at-the-ready dispatch operator in his department (Kwon's use of his cell phone to get information becomes a running gag; whether intentional or unintentional, it is funny)—and the two begrudgingly team up to find their common foe.

The interplay between the two is amusing. The Luddite Bobo dismisses Kwon's reliance on his phone, despite its, again, ludicrously potent effectiveness. Kwon repeatedly scolds Bobo for his take-no-prisoners methods and constantly threatens to bring him in when the mission is complete. Bobo throws multiple racial stereotypes at his partner, which Kwon deflects for their ignorance (Needles to say, the repeals don't stick).

When the two characters are together, Alessandro Camon's screenplay (based on the graphic novel by Matz) has the spark of life to it—no matter how generic the basis may be. In terms of a legitimate argument between the two ways that the characters represent, it's a one-sided one apart from the movie's obvious sympathy with Bobo. Placed against Stallone, Kang has a meek presence; ironically, it's when Kwon is forced into action that his character is at his strongest.

It's the result of the movie's mentality that this is the case. There is no room for thoughtfulness or hesitation here (Christian Slater plays a crafty associate of the crime lord who learns that the hard way after Kwon's attempts to interrogate him in a normal way fail), and director Walter Hill's brutal depiction of various bullet-ridden firefights and wall-smashing fisticuffs is fully simpatico with Bobo's nearly absurd machismo. Here is a man who goes to a spa to dispense with an associate who betrayed him, and for no apparent reason, strips down to his underwear for the confrontation. There is no need for a disguise (given that he immediately goes to the man and that it's only the two of them a masseuse, whom he scares off with the gun hidden in his towel, in the room); it's simply an excuse to ensure we note how burly and tattooed Bobo's physique is.

The final standoff has no false pretenses. After establishing a web of corruption that is only an excuse to set the wheels in motion, Bullet to the Head abandons it entirely in titular fashion and goes right to the core of the movie's existence: plenty of shooting and two men with axes with grind fighting for dominance with actual axes. Then again, it also makes everything that came beforehand look all the more meaningless.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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