IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 91 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In New Orleans, hitman Jimmy Bobo and his partner Louis Blanchard eliminate a corrupt policeman, Hank Greely, but soon afterwards Blanchard is murdered by Keegan, who escapes from Bobo. Detective Taylor Kwon arrives in New Orleans to investigate Greely’s death and soon finds himself on Bobo’s trail. Kwon and Bobo meet in a bar, then Bobo saves Kwon from some corrupt cops who are in the pay of crooked lawyer Robert Morel. He takes him to a tattoo parlor, where Bobo’s daughter, Lisa, treats Kwon’s wounds. It seems that criminal and cop have to form a partnership to survive…
It’s a shame really, but not surprising. Now long ago the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The Last Stand opened to extremely poor box office. The reviews were average but many people who went to see it did like the movie. The trouble is, not many people went to see it, and many are now wondering if the Austrian Oak’s days as a box office draw are numbered, even if the filmmakers did try to put in some ingredients to appeal to those who may not have even been born when films like Total Recall and Terminator 2 were storming the box office. Now the latest movie from his friend and old rival Sylvester Stallone also appears to be performing disappointingly. Maybe this really does mean that the days of the old action stars are numbered, unless they are in iconic roles or franchises like Rocky and The Terminator, or appearing en masse as in The Expendables films, though even the second one of that franchise made far less than the first.
Rambling on about box office numbers is not the way I normally start a review but I have to vent my frustration in the growing realisation that some of my favourite movie stars won’t be appearing on screen for ever, and could actually disappear from it sooner than I expected. Even worse, decent replacements are few and far between. Arnie was not a good actor, but which action stars [if even such a thing exists now] have his wonderful personality? Thank god for Jason Statham I say, though he has yet to make a really great movie. Stallone is a far better actor than Schwarzenegger and could maybe go on to do interesting character parts if he tried, though he’s usually happy just coasting, as he does in Bullet To The Head, which also marks the return to the screen of Walter Hill, director of films like The Warriors, Southern Comfort and my favourite, the much under-appreciated Streets Of Fire. Sadly, some may wonder why he bothered.
Now that comment may sound extreme and Bullet To The Head is certainly no disaster. I enjoyed it more than at least two other recent visits to the cinema. However, it is still a big disappointment which both feels like it belongs in the 80’s but doesn’t have the verve and style that the better action movies from that decade have in spades. An 80’s-style action movie should automatically be a term of praise, and I certainly feel this kind of film was usually done better back then, but Bullet To The Head seems stale. All the ingredients you expect to see are there, from mismatched partners to gratuitous female nudity to a driving blues-orientated score full of guitar licks and harmonica that almost makes one feel that Hill has never been away. The trouble is, he has, and these kinds of films have changed in the interim. Not, I would say, for the better, but it seems like nobody really tried to make this particular film as good as it could possibly be, and a youngster who views it having been told it is like the movies they made in the 80’s would hardly be encouraged to check out actual old action flicks including the two very similar to Bullet To The Head, and much better, films Hill made back in the day, Red Heat and the classic 48 Hours.
Bullet To The Head is very awkward and sloppy at times, giving the impression of hasty re-editing. Shots seem to be missing from some scenes, while Stallone occasionally narrates, something which just doesn’t feel right with this film despite him having a great voice which would be perfect for film noir. There certainly is plenty of action, though it mostly involves brawls where….o yes….I’m afraid so….you can barely see what is going on. I can almost accept how younger directors feel obliged to shoot action with dizzying shakycam and eye-aching cutting [I’m so tired of getting sore eyes from watching action these days that I’m considering shutting my eyes when an action scene comes along in future], but old veterans like Walter Hill who used to do this kind of thing properly? An encounter in a public bathroom could have bettered the one in Goldeneye if shot properly, but only the final fight between Stallone and Jason Momoa [who is surprisingly good as a brutal villain] works somewhat, a real down-and-dirty battle with good use of high angles.
Despite all this stuff, the film mostly just plods through its plot, which seems mostly made up of bits and pieces of other movies. You just know that as soon as it’s revealed that Stallone’s character has a pretty daughter, ‘A’ that an attraction will develop between her and his partner [Stallone has certainly been here before hasn’t he?] and ‘B’ she will get kidnapped. The villainous side of the film is especially lazily written and Christian Slater is just wasted. He won’t rejuvenate his career by doing parts like this. At least crook and cop make a good team and have some funny exchanges about things ranging from phones to Asians. Bobo is a potentially interesting character, and scenes where he shoots people in cold blood hint at a rather darker film [which seems like was originally intended] than made it onto the screen. The script steadfastly refuses to delve into its more intriguing elements though. At least there’s a decent amount of blood spilled on-screen, and it all looks like good old-fashioned squibs as well. Stallone looks great at 66, and he still has considerable presence and charisma.
I really wanted to like Bullet To The Head, which should have been a really pleasing nostalgia trip, but instead it’s disappointingly pedestrian throughout, just about managing to hit all the right beats but with little enthusiasm or indeed skill. It does partially entertain, and will probably seem pretty decent as a rental. The Last Stand though is a much more enjoyable experience, so if you fancy a throwback to the good old days I would recommend that go see that instead…if any cinemas are still showing it, of course.