2013 seems to be the ‘year of the action flick.’ At least that’s what you could infer from the barrage to hit the box office so far. January alone saw the release of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest vehicle, “The Last Stand” and Sean Penn’s “Gangster Squad,” with the highly touted “A Good Day to Die Hard,” slated for a Valentine’s Day release, not far behind. And, given that the most action genre fans had to whet their appetite with prior was the high-energy (if overcrowded) “Expendables” series, this latest wave of films was a much-anticipated treat. However, Schwarzenegger and Willis aren’t the only action heroes to make a re-emergence. Sylvester Stallone is back in the shoot-em-up "Bullet to the Head;” and while suffering from some ill-conceived plotting and overacting, the film manages to be a genuinely entertaining revenge flick with plenty of laughs and 80s throwback action.
Stallone plays Jimmy Bonomo, a hit man working in New Orleans. During the opening of the film, he and his partner, Louis (Jon Seda), pose as cops to take out a mark in a hotel, but soon realize they bought off more than they can chew. Louis is killed in a bar later that night by a rouge hit man named Keegan(Jason Momoa), and while Bonomo escapes, the loss of his partner becomes a devastating wrong…a wrong he means to right by any means necessary.
While this is transpiring, the film introduces us to an ambitious detective, Kwon(Sung Kang, “Live Free or Die Hard”), who quickly connects the dots between the deceased Louis and he and Bonomo’s dead mark, fingering Jimmy in the proceedings. While the scene that follows pushes the limits of believability (Kwon simply calls up Bonomo on his cell and asks him to meet at a bar), it is effective in setting up the rest of the film. SavingKwon from a group of dirty cops who want him silenced, the two become unlikely allies as they attempt to flush out the guilty parties: Kwon, to make an arrest; Bonomo to deliver a large helping of good old-fashioned payback.
The filming style of “Bullet to the Head” is decidedly noir, based off the graphic novel “Du plomb dans la tête” by artist Alexis Nolent. Based in New Orleans, the film utilizes cuts of lighted skyscrapers and riverboats – together with an almost “Law & Order”- type music score, to cloak it in mystery and intrigue. The film is more chronological than, say, “Sin City” (based on a graphic novel by artist Frank Miller), yet that is what “Bullet” reminds you of. Jimmy Bonomocould easily be Mickey Rourke from that movie, or Mel Gibson’s character ‘Porter’ from “Payback.” He wants revenge, and means to get it by roughing up the city’s underbelly, all while attempting to convince tag-along Kwon that justice under the law doesn’t always get the job done.
“Bullet” is an action movie, pure and simple. And while you’re not likely to see any ‘Best Actor’ awards come next year’s Oscars, acting from the main cast is effective enough, ranging from comic to badass. Stallone, still in great shape at 66, pulls off the tough-guy motif effectively, throwing one-liners aplenty in between gunplay and explosions. And you’ve got to credit the filmmakers, as they set up some classic action sequences (one, involving Bonomo blowing up his own hideout with explosives to ward off a team of hit men is probably the funniest scene in the movie), while others are humorous and iconic. Several villains, in an attempt to flush Bonomo out, discover that he has a daughter (the beautiful Sarah Shahi), which they decide to use for leverage. Haven’t these guys ever fought an action hero before? You neverthreaten the family.
Problems with “Bullet to the Head,” however, come in that is that it’s littered with inconsequential characters that serve as little more than cannon fodder. The worst offender is Marcus Baptiste, whose limited presence cause one to question the filmmakers’ decision to cast Christian Slater in the role. Slater, who has been enjoyable in a slew of movies over the years, has virtually no dialogue, and his talent seems completely squandered here. Likewise, the main villain, a man named Robert Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is flat and unbelievable, and could have been written out of the movie completely with no loss to the film whatsoever.
In a surprising turn, however, Jason Momoa, as Keegan, delivers decent acting during the film (a welcome change, given negative reviews of 2011’s "Conan the Barbarian"), though seems confined by a script that really doesn’tallow him to breathe. Unnecessary focus placed on villains Morel and Baptiste, “Bullet” probably would have fared better giving Keegan more depth and screen time, as his scenes are honestly enjoyable (though the final scene, an axe fight between he andBonomo, will doubtless please fans no matter how thin his character may have been painted).
“Bullet to the Head” is not a bad movie. At the end of the day, it doesn’t bring anything to the genre that hasn’t been accomplished by countless films before, yet manages to be charming due to its high body count, pleasing action sequences, and utter lack of apology. It features dark-themed music and ambiance, and high-octane scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny. It definitely earns its ‘R’ rating with an abundance of violence, yet manages to balance the proceedings with style and wit. Whether you never miss a Stallone film or this is your first, you’ll doubtless have a good time, and that in itself may be enough to ultimately save the film from obscurity.