Bullet to the Head (2013)
92 min., rated R.
For all intents and purposes, January and now February must be the months of "I Love the '80s" nostalgia for action dinosaurs Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. While the former's "The Last Stand" was a decently fun B-movie, the latter fares less successfully. Hanging onto the longing of Stallone as a macho, leather-skinned action star, "Bullet to the Head" is a no-nonsense retro action throwback, unapologetically violent as it's allowed to be but ever so drab and really quite average. Beyond the name value of Sly and director Walter Hill (responsible for "The Warriors" and "48 Hrs."), it leaves as much of an impression as any direct-to-DVD release starring Steven Seagal.
Stallone plays New Orleans contract killer Jimmy Bonomo—or, just "Bobo" for short—who lives in the swamp, has been arrested 26 times, and only drinks Bulleit bourbon. He's out for revenge once being double-crossed and partner Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda) is killed at a bayou bar by psychotic mercenary Keegan (Jason Momoa), who's actually a lackey for another bad guy (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Korean-American Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang from the "Fast and the Furious" movies) comes to town from Washington, D.C., after Bobo's hit on a cop-turned-cokehead (Holt McCallany) and forms an unlikely alliance with the grumpy hitman.
"Bullet to the Head," based on the French graphic novel "Du plomb dans la tête" and adapted by Alessandro Camon, is standard-issue in its writing (enough with the real estate schemes and a desired flash drive!) and the action serviceable. It all comes down to Bobo hunting down colorful, one-dimensional bad guys and taking them out. The protagonist is a pretty scuzzy anti-hero, even if he's nice enough to spare the lives of hookers ("No women, no children" happens to be his motto). Just because Bobo is played by Stallone doesn't mean one can just set aside the character's void of redeeming qualities and root for him. As for the hand-to-hand fights, director Hill tries getting with the times, chopping shots into itty-bitty pieces so the action enervates rather than thrills. A lively, brutally unchained showdown in a warehouse with axes between Bobo and Keegan is a highlight, but not much in the previous 80 minutes justifies waiting around for 4 minutes in the last 12. Also, to the credit of Hill and cinematographer Lloyd Ahern, there is a seamy, rough-and-tumble look that feels stained on the screen.
Truth be told, "Bobo" is a silly name and 66-year-old Stallone is long past his heyday, but he's still a freakishly ripped badass, spouting off tongue-in-cheek one-liners and doing most of the licking. He and appealing co-star Kang trade some barbs, most of them clangy, and their mismatched-buddy chemistry lacks spark. Christian Slater (remember him?) rips up the scenery a bit as a sleazy lawyer, and Momoa has a hulking presence and makes enough threatening, stone-cold stares to come off better here than he did as the lead in the "Conan the Barbarian" remake. Sarah Shahi handles herself fine as Bobo's daughter Lisa, a tattoo parlor artist, but the character is written solely as a plot point and a pretty piece of collateral to be kidnapped.
Without ever being a complete turkey, "Bullet to the Head" is a no-frills time-waster but not much fun. If it does one thing right, it delivers what it says on the tin. Right out of the gate, a bullet comes thrashing through the Warner Bros. and Dark Castle logos, and then most characters meet their maker with something to their noggin. Diehard loyalists might cut this trashy action quickie some slack solely based on Sly.