Bullet to the Head

Stallone brings the beige heat

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Had the stars aligned correctly, Walter Hill and Sylvester Stallone—those giants of ’70s/’80s action cinema—might already have worked together.

For both 48 Hrs. and The Driver, Hill came a-knocking, but Stallone passed on both. Sadly, their eventual pairing on Bullet To The Head is so thuddingly average that you might spend half of its running time wistfully thinking of what might have been and the other half giving thanks that it didn’t happen.

This is an unabashed buddy action flick, with Stallone’s aging hitman, Jimmy Bobo, teaming up with Sung Kang’s straight-arrow cop to hunt down the blah blah blah who’s involved with something about property development. We’re not being glib—the plot is almost totally irrelevant. Corrupt cops, slimy lawyers (Christian Slater in a pity-making, agent-sacking tour de force), unstoppable killers (Jason Momoa, bouncing back from Conan with a nicely nasty turn) and Bobo’s daughter, just ripe for a late-in-the-day kidnapping—we’ve done this dance a dirty dozen times. 

So, apart from some weird structural tics (it starts in the middle, a Tarantino tribute 10 years too late, with a Stallone voiceover that suggests a fair amount of fixing in post), what we need to set this apart from the pack is a neat seam of wry humor and inventive violence. It doesn’t really deliver on either count—the banter between Stallone and Kang is by-the-numbers, and although the title is justified by an astounding number of brain-splats, the violence is perfunctorily staged and lacking in oomph.

Thank God for Stallone, then. With Kang, surprisingly, leaving his Fast Five charisma in the garage, Sly is the best thing about the whole shebang, making the punching and shooting look effortless, while the voice—now so rumbly it could blow a subwoofer at 100 paces—makes even the worst dialogue sound like it’s been in the pan for three minutes. But this is not classic Stallone, and it’s far from classic Hill—the menace and tension the director captured in movies like The Warriors, Southern Comfort, and 48 Hrs. is sadly missing here. It doesn’t even hit the heights of Red Heat—and when you’re crying out for Jim Belushi to enliven proceedings, something’s seriously awry.

In short, Bullet to the Head is fun in parts, and Stallone’s always watchable, but it’s an ’80s tribute movie that coasts along on rapidly diminishing goodwill. Beige Heat, if you will. 

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