“Revenge never gets old”, goes the tagline for this film. The soon-to-be-released The Last Stand, headlined by Stallone’s old rival Arnold Schwarzenegger, has the tagline “retirement is for sissies”. That’s right, the selling point for these action movie icons now is that they’re over the hill and proud of it – “badass grandpas”, but badass nonetheless. Fresh off the success of his Expendables franchise and proving he still has considerable pull in Hollywood, Stallone goes back to basics with Bullet to the Head.
Based on a French graphic novel, the film stars Stallone as gun-for-hire James Bonomo, or “Jimmy Bobo” to those who know him. Jimmy and his and partner Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda) carry out a hit on a corrupt cop (Holt McCallany), but they end up double-crossed, with Blanchard brutally stabbed to death by mercenary Keegan (Momoa). Taylor Kwon (Sung), a young Washington DC cop, comes to town to investigate the murders. He ends up reluctantly teaming up with Jimmy as they become embroiled in a web of corrupt officials and crooked businessmen, assisted by an “associate” of Jimmy’s, tattoo artist Lisa (Sarah Shahi).
Bullet to the Head is as straightforward a genre piece as they come, an honest-to-goodness throwback to the brutal action flicks of the 80s and 90s. It’s all there: the overflowing testosterone, fisticuffs and gunplay and a sprinkling of gratuitous nudity. The plot is spelled out in black and white and the pace is kept brisk, the film coming in at a lean running time of 91 minutes. There are moments where the film can get a little too direct-to-DVD, the presence of Christian Slater not helping matters much – but it never feels too cheap or sloppy.
This is the kind of role Stallone can play in his sleep, the tough, anti-heroic hitman-with-a-heart-of-gold archetype being right up his alley. He shoots, swaggers and mumbles his way through the story, looking in fighting-fit shape. Thomas Jane was originally supposed to play the cop who partners up with Jimmy, but producer Joel Silver recast Sung in the role, feeling a “more ethnic” actor would up the film’s mass appeal. The actor is passable in the role, but his chemistry with Stallone is a little wanting and the whole “we’re on different sides of the law”, old school vs. new school shtick does get old after a while.
Momoa, best known as Khal Drogo on TV’s Game of Thrones and as Conan the Barbarian in the remake cuts an intimidating figure as the stock muscle-bound henchman who is meant to be more than a physical match for our protagonist. The climactic action sequence in which Keegan and Jimmy do battle armed with axes is an adequately exciting note on which to end the film. Slater is probably grateful to finally be in a movie that is theatrically-released and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje hobbles around as the criminal head honcho – though as far as villains go, it’s clearly Momoa’s show.
Like its lead assassin character, Bullet to the Head gets the job done and will fit right in with the watchable-if-disposable entries from the bygone days of the genre. It doesn’t have the wink-and-nod self-awareness of theExpendables films, nor is it as much of a nostalgia trip, but at least it doesn’t take itself too seriously and is fun in parts.
SUMMARY: It’s nothing remarkable, but it’s what you’d expect of this kind of flick, and there are worse guys than Stallone to kill some time at the movies for you.