The recent nostalgia for those gleefully silly action romps from the 1980s, embodied in films such as The Expendables, could have coincided swimmingly with the big-screen return of legendary and influential filmmaker Walter Hill, who hasn’t directed a feature film in over a decade. However, working from meatier source material than the genre is used to – Alexis Nolent’s French graphic novel Du Plomb Dans La Tete – apparently does little to inspire the director, who anonymously helms this brain-dead action movie that will struggle to please even Sylvester Stallone’s most dew-eyed and dedicated fans.
After his partner is brutally murdered, amusingly-monikered hitman Jimmy Bobo (Stallone) teams up with a young detective, Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) to take down the shady bureaucrats responsible and clean up the New Orleans streets once and for all. Though this premise has plenty of low-rent potential as a stylish, knowing throwback to classically daft action films such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando, Bullet to the Head plays like an unwilling parody of all those gratuitous, politically incorrect action movies of the 1980s, minus the charm, thrills and charisma.
From a scene early on in which Sly gets the better of Terminator-like assassin Keegan (Jason Momoa) – a man half his age and more than a few inches taller – it’s clear that the film’s punishing lack of self-awareness is its undoing, delusionally trying to convince audiences that Sly’s still in his forties, or even his fifties.
Bobo struts around in sharp suits, occasionally stopping off at the local bath-house to show off his physique (which is admittedly impressive, given his age), before kicking some ass and hurling out some cheesy wise-cracks, while ridiculous blues rock music reminds us that, yes, the film is set in New Orleans. Though this sounds fun in a “so bad it’s good” sort of way and some of the banter between Stallone and Kang does work, the gratuity quickly becomes tiresome simply because it’s so unimaginative; the nudity is fleeting – the scene in which a beautiful, braless tattooist (Sarah Shahi) turns out to be Bobo’s daughter feels like it belongs in Last Action Hero – and the violence just isn’t graphic enough.
Furthermore, incomprehensible action editing comes straight out of the Steven Seagal School of Filmmaking, frantically splicing dozens of shots together in order to give a passing impression that Sly can keep up with his far younger adversaries. Party to this the unsurprisingly forgettable plot, terrible performances and cringe-inducing script, and there’s absolutely no doubt that without Stallone and Hill’s involvement, this would have been a straight-to-DVD flick, likely starring Luke Goss or Cuba Gooding Jr.
One is tempted to say that the film doesn’t feel like a Walter Hill film, but then, when was the last time the Warriors director actually made something worth watching? With its irritating, fidgety aesthetic – which indulges too many lightbulb flashes, fast fades and tacky pause-zooms – it plays like something that would pacify only the most boozy and faithful Stallone worshippers. Some of the supporting appearances provide some perverse laughs – Christian Slater is a hoot as a sleazeball high up the conspiracy, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje hams his role up appropriately – but on the whole, this is unbearably lazy, low-mileage rental fodder that does nobody involved any good at all.
Sleazy but dull, this glorified TV movie continues the self-destruction of the once-talented Walter Hill’s career.
Bullet to the Head is in cinemas February 1st.
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