bullet_to_the_head

Action specialist Walter Hill has always had a fondness for hero odd couples, a formula the director exploited with memorably entertaining results in 48 Hrs., Red Heat, and Another 48 Hrs.; and now Hill returns to the genre in triumph with Bullet to the Head, the director’s first feature film in many years, but a worthy addition to his impressive filmography and well worth the protracted wait.

Bullet to the Head is a near-perfect showcase for the haggard and frightening gravitas of over-the-hill Sylvester Stallone, who as cynical but likable hit man Jimmy “Bobo” Bonomo looks as chiseled, sleepy-eyed, and casually homicidal as ever, his voice so inhumanly deep and guttural that it sounds as if he has a football-sized phlegm wad and a few shell fragments lodged behind his chest. Veins protrude from his arms like earthworms writhing under the flesh of this man so old he seems just as likely to keel over dead from petrifaction as lash out and take off an enemy head.

But fortunately for action fans, Bobo makes it through the flick and takes out the trash in classic style, gunning for the gangsters and dirty cops who double-crossed him and killed his partner and teaming up for the purpose with D.C. detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), whose own investigation of a fellow officer’s murder has led him to Bobo’s own New Orleans. Sung Kang packs about as much charisma as stale tofu, but his presence allows for politically incorrect fun-poking from Stallone along the sarcastic lines of, “Nice goin’, Oddjob” and “Why don’t you go read some fuckin’ tea leaves?” The generational-technological gap between the two is also effective, recalling the dynamic between Bruce Willis and Justin Long in Live Free or Die Hard.

The culprits turn out to be high-rollers Robert Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a cane-pimping African emigre with a knowledge of classical literature (of course!), and his sleazy associate Marcus Baptiste, played by Christian Slater, who seems to have transitioned gracefully enough from weaselly 80s alt-heartthrob roles to weaselly middle-aged bad guys. Bobo himself, meanwhile, is also being hunted by mercenary Keegan (Jason Momoa), a mean-eyed menace whose constant scowling is reminiscent of Ed O’Ross’s turn in Red Heat.

Bullet to the Head makes a decent (if perhaps too-obvious) effort to give its story a bit of the spice and flavor of its New Orleans setting, and a sassy blues score by Steve Mazzaro sets the unpretty tone of the film, with Sarah Shahi furnishing skank appeal as Bobo’s bastard tattoo artist daughter. But the main attraction here is always Sylvester Stallone. In addition to getting into a brutal Turkish bath fight, Stallone has a climactic, adrenaline-pumping axe duel with Momoa that earned the movie an extra half-star from this reviewer. Truly an experience to elicit affirmative Tim Allen chimp grunts from seasoned remote control warriors everywhere, Walter Hill’s Bullet to the Head is aggressively recommended to proud dick owners only.

4.5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Bullet to the Head is:

11. Sexist! One of Bobo’s rules as a hit man is “no women, no children”. A modern, sexually enlightened, and gender-blind gentleman would be just as eager to kill marked women as men. The climactic confrontation involves a damsel in distress.

10. Anti-Christian. A foul-mouthed, coke-and-booze-binging jerk (Holt McCallany) wears a crucifix. One of the villains is named Baptiste.

9. Anti-redneck. “I don’t trust that redneck prick.”

8. Pro-gay. Lesbians tango at a costume ball.

7. Anti-Slav. As in Pain and Gain, The Heat, and A Good Day to Die Hard, the Slavic woman is defined by sleaze.

6. Pro-torture. Sadism is an asset in interrogating a captive.

5. Drug-ambivalent. Bobo is a heavy drinker, but is no less effective for it. His daughter’s mother is a dead junkie hooker. (see also no. 10)

4. Un-p.c. Bobo calls Kwon “Confucius”, etc.

3. Multiculturalist/pro-miscegenation. Kwon hooks up with Bobo’s daughter. New Orleans appears as a happy (albeit catastrophically corrupt) multiracial city, with blacks and whites mingling to hear some jazz.

2. Anti-police. Wooed by graft, cops become killers.

1. Anti-state/anti-cronyism. Motivating much of the killing is Morel’s plan to knock down poor (presumably black) people’s housing and throw up condominiums. “This goes way up, man. We’re talkin’ ’bout Washington.”

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