Bullet to the Head
Directed by Walter Hill
“Bang. Down. Owned.” So recalls New Orleans hitman Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone) to his slick, cool-cop frenemy (Sung Kang) in Walter Hill’s Bullet To The Head. If the title doesn’t give it away, this is a movie obsessed by points of entry and egress: punches that start fistfights, fistfights that end in car crashes, one-liners that bring conversations to a stone-cold halt. Stallone is describing an ass-beating he handed down, but he’s also talking to the guy who received it—maybe an unintended metaphor for the audience-studio relationship that characterizes these types of extremely-loud-and-incredibly-close-to-retirement endeavors. Bobo’s voiceover introduces him over a speedy montage of mug shots, so we watch Stallone age from plump-cheeked guido-phyte to a throbbing mausoleum on two legs, sneering defiantly all the way. “But sometimes you gotta abandon your principles and do the right thing”, he slurs. “Here’s how it went down.”
If I were to tell you the plot of Bullet To The Head were, um, lower on the priority-pyramid than getting the band back together, I wouldn’t be lying—something about shady New Orleans real estate developers, a flash drive with an automated index of bribed city officials, and a whack job that ends up with Bobo’s partner dead. Keegan, the guy who killed him (Jason Momoa, Conan 2011) is a similarly block-bodied hired killer who, it’s pointed out repeatedly, is dangerous because he “doesn’t care about money.” In the age of Anton Chigurh and Heath Ledger’s Joker, a compelling bad guy doesn’t have to do much other than annihilate everybody around him and keep on surviving—so Stallone’s craggy seen-it-all attitude finds a worthy adversary, which puts the real bounce in Bullet’s step. Along the way, a detective from DC (Kang) turns up to investigate the duo’s last job together, botched when Stallone hesitated from killing a prostitute because she had a black cat tattooed on her shoulder blade, similar to his smokin’ hot tattoo-artist daughter.
The inevitable warehouse showdown happens, and Keegan throws Bobo an antique fireman’s axe to propose a duel. (Bobo: “What are we, fucking vikings?”) The hidden comedy to these projects always comes from plopping someone like Stallone (or Schwarzenegger, aiming for another tactical winter comeback post-Expendables) in the realm of mere mortals and seeing how they fare for themselves. The nasal-voiced poindexter Kang is a better-than-decent foil; there are inevitably 10-too-many Asian jokes, but the camera cannily observes the guys scoping out a bluegrass bar and realizing neither has anything in common with the patrons. And so it goes: the old America disappearing before Stallone’s eyes. Unlike Sam Peckinpah, Hill’s self-awareness as a progenitor of dude-weepies has never gotten in the way of his ability to tell a story. Like Johnny Handsome, the filmmaker’s last portrait of New Orleans, Bullet proposes an America rife with depravity and hypocrisy, and all a guy can do to manage is wait—maybe adjust his muscle shirt, sip on some bourbon. This is a gleefully knuckleheaded buddy action picture by the Rembrandt of the genre, a film that—like the endless cacophony of lurid harmonica solos squiggled on its margins—glides with the assurance that, goddammit, it’s gonna play by its own rules.
Opens February 1