Don’t call it a comeback. He’s been here for years. By “he,” we mean none other than Sylvester Stallone, once again appearing in an 80s throwback actioner to satisfy his ego, his bank account and his dwindling fanbase.
The actioner in question, Bullet to the Head, offers everything we’ve come from the 66-year-old, hyper-trophied action star: A thin, underwritten script, gratuitous violence (and T&A), mid-level (or lower) actors in supporting turns, and one-liners only a monosyllabic mumbler like Stallone can deliver unironically. Not surprisingly (and smartly, it should be added), studio executives relegated Bullet to the Head to the first day of February, a release date only marginally better than the one accorded Arnold Schwarzenegger’s failed comeback attempt two weeks ago.
What might come as a surprise is the director behind Bullet to the Head, Walter Hill. For those in the not-know, Hill, once an A-level action director best known for directing The Warriors, 48 Hours, the sequel, Another 48 Hours, Red Heat, lost traction in the late 1990s, all but losing his cred with studios and audiences when he decided to helm the ill-fated Supernova more than a decade ago. Since then, he’s directed one other film, Undisputed, and television, an unfortunate fall from filmmaking grace that Bullet to the Head will do little, if anything, to reverse.
Essentially a work-for-hire assignment for Hill, Bullet to the Head shares a few things in common with his earlier, better work in film: a mismatched duo, James “Bobo” Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone), a career criminal and professional hit man (with a code, of course, because what’s a professional hitman without an honor code?), and Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), an inexperienced D.C. detective in New Orleans to track the killer of his ex-partner-turned-mid-level-criminal, Hank Greely (Holt McCallany). Together, they exchange insults and threats, but eventually learn to work for the common good. In this case, that common good means taking down Robert Nkomo Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), an unscrupulous real-estate developer, Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater), Morel’s personal attorney, Keegan (Jason Momoa), one of Morel’s mercenaries.
The plot, such as it is, generally involves Bonomo and Kwon driving from one New Orleans location while Kwon tracks down relevant information via smart-phone (a female voice is always waiting on the other line to help), getting to said location, tracking down a low-level criminal and eliminating him seconds after he gives up the next link in the chain of corruption. With Stallone spitting out the requisite one-liners with Kwon generally looking on perplexed, Bullet to the Head moves in fits and starts from one violent scene to another, stopping only to introduce Bonomo’s heavily tattooed, tattoo parlor-owning daughter, Lisa (Sarah Shahi), both to humanize Bonomo (he’s a hitman not just with a code, but a heart too) and to give Kwon a perfunctory romantic interest.
Perfunctory is the right word to describe Bullet to the Head. There’s nothing in Alessandro Camon’s script (based on Alexis Nolent’s graphic novel, “Du plomb dans la tête”) that can be described as fresh, original, or imaginative. Camon seems more than happy to trot out the same tired genre tropes over and over again, forcing Hill to substitute style for substance just as often. To be fair, Hill knew exactly what he was getting when he signed on to direct Bullet to the Head. It’s just a pity Hill didn’t pick a better script for his comeback. Then again, Bullet to the Head might have been the best script (relatively speaking, of course) available. If so, it was and is a waste of Hill’s skills and talents as a director.
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