Movie Review: 'Bullet to the Head' -- 2 stars
Bullet to the Head
Directed by Walter Hill
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Jason Momoa, Christian Slater
In "Bullet to the Head," Sylvester Stallone gets his first non-"Expendables," "Rocky" or "Rambo" starring role in a theatrical release since 2001. Arriving in theaters between Arnold Schwarzenegger's "The Last Stand" two weeks ago and the upcoming unveiling of Bruce Willis' latest "Die Hard," the movie finally gives Sly the chance to stretch outside his franchise-driven comfort zone.
And if you've seen "Cobra" or, say, "Cliffhanger," the result is more or less what you'd expect. Director Walter Hill ("48 Hrs.") brings stylistic panache to this New Orleans-set buddy tale based on a French graphic novel, but the narrative conventions are so rigidly in place that watching the flick feels like going down a checklist.
Stallone plays contract killer Jimmy Bobo. He and his partner Louis (Jon Seda) are double-crossed after a successful job, and Louis is killed. So Jimmy, naturally, embarks on a rogue revenge quest that takes him to the upper tier of New Orleans society. For convoluted reasons, Jimmy is assisted by D.C. police Officer Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang).
Hill is a strong director with a long history of elevating run-of-the-mill genre pieces by injecting them with atmosphere and a character-driven approach to action storytelling. There's a Mardi Gras spirit to "Bullet to the Head," which soaks up the carnivallike glamour and mystery that's so characteristic of New Orleans, or the version of it we're accustomed to seeing on-screen.
But these days Stallone looks like a blowup doll and his characteristic monotone has transformed into a barely decipherable mumble. You're meant to feel Jimmy's pain, to share his rage, but that's hard when he doesn't even seem human. For that reason, there isn't much chemistry with Kang's Officer Taylor, who only exists so that Jimmy can have a replacement buddy.
In short: The movie spends 100 minutes churning through familiar, faintly ridiculous territory. Then it peters out in a mundane climax set in the usual abandoned warehouse, with the exhausted toss-away-the-guns, mano-a-mano fight to set things straight. This time, the characters pick up axes. That doesn't make it any better.