Bullet to the Head (2012)

2015 #70
Walter Hill | 88 mins | TV | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Bullet to the HeadI had absolutely zero intention of ever watching this Sylvester Stallone vehicle (which is not to be confused with John Woo’s Bullet in the Head, of course), but then I saw a trailer on a Blu-ray and it looked like it might be funny and passable dumb-action fun. My respect to whoever edited that trailer, because neither of those elements are significant features of the full film.

Adapted from a French graphic novel (no, really — it’s called Du plomb dans la tête), the story casts Stallone as a hitman whose partner is killed by order of their employer, which is what brings him into contact with cop Kwon (the Fast & Furiouses’s Sung Kang), whose former partner was also killed by the same chap. (Actually, he was killed by Stallone; and they weren’t partners any more because the guy went corrupt, or something. My point is, the partners parallel is an angle that gets pithily highlighted in marketing and reviews, but is barely touched in the film itself.) Reluctantly teaming up, they set out to find out who’s behind it all.

At times, you get the impression that director Walter Hill (who also performed uncredited re-writes) wants this to be a noir tale: there’s a hardboiled voiceover, a story mired in corrupt officials, twists about who to trust, and so on. But these elements are only fleeting (including that voiceover), never building a consistency where you could plausibly claim it as any kind of neo-noir. Instead, it’s more of a buddy movie in the ’80s mould. There are multiple scenes of Stallone and his new chum just driving around chatting, often in a gently racist way, all of which is clearly striving for that amusing, loveable, buddy movie vibe. It doesn’t reach it — it’s not funny, or likeable, and it just feels like a shoehorned aside from the plot.

AxefightSaid plot all comes down to a final fight, Stallone vs Jason Momoa (of Game of Thrones and the Conan reboot), who’s technically the henchman but serves as the primary antagonist. In the film’s closest move to originality, they duel with fire axes. It’s a fairly worthwhile dose of combat, if you enjoy that kind of thing, but even then isn’t worth watching the whole film for.

It comes to something when your production logos gimmick is the most interesting thing about your movie, but Hill has even bluntly stated in an interview that “we’re not breaking new ground. We’re trying to be entertaining within a format that’s familiar.” Talk about setting your sights low! And, indeed, low is all they achieved.

2 out of 5

Bullet to the Head is on Film4 tomorrow at 9pm.

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