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STUDIO Warner Home Video
RUNNING TIME 92 Minutes
• Bullet to the Head: Mayhem Inc.
Sylvester Stallone and Walter Hill… together at last.
Walter Hill (Director), Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Jason Mamoa, Christian Slater, Sarah Shahi, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Bullet to the Head is about Jimmy Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone), a mob hitman in New Orleans, and Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), a police detective, whose respective partners are killed by the same criminal organization. The two men reluctantly team up to take down the organization while crooked cops, triggermen, and a particularly skilled hitman named Keegan (Jason Momoa) try to kill them first.
When a beloved director takes a break from making movies, they take up a legendary status in the collective unconscious of their fanbase. This means that when the film-maker inevitably returns to their trade they’re dealing with absurdly bloated expectations. They’re expected not only to fill that nostalgic hole in each and every person’s heart but to make the best movie of their entire career. It’s a bit like expecting an Olympic athlete to come out of a decade of retirement and win a gold medal. Of course when the director comes in with a softball of a film, it’s inevitably treated as the worst thing the world and then the famous director has to beg and scrape to get funding for further projects down the road; proving conclusively that hard-core fans are the worst. Victims include: George A. Romero, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, and now Walter Hill.
Walter Hill’s last movie was 2002’s Undisputed. It was a very good sports drama that got more use out of Ving Rhames and Wesley Snipes than any director ever. It was vastly underrated, and Hill has been on hiatus ever since. Many wondered if he’d ever return the director’s chair. But through Stallone, all things are possible, and Walter Hill was hired as the director of Bullet to the Head.
The plot is absurdly simple and it’s ground that Walter Hill has visited several times with the 48 Hours movies and Red Heat. The thing is while I like those three movies, I don’t think they represent the upper echelon of Hill’s catalog. Those movie always seemed like a safe bet; a palette cleanser for Hill to sit back and let a movie just about direct itself before taking on more challenging movies. “Safe” is a very good word for Bullet to the Head. Everything here is by the numbers: Bonomo, being a hitman, wants to get violent and bloody revenge on the men who killed his partner; Kwon wants justice to be done and, despite his Faustian partnership with a trained killer, wants things to be done by the book. I bet you can’t guess which ideology wins out in the end.
Really the only barrier separating Bullet to the Head from being a direct-to-DVD action movie starring Jason Statham, Stephen Seagal, or Dolph Lundgren is the strength of the directing and the quality of the action scenes. The screenplay is lazy and forgettable but the people involved make it memorable.
Stallone is Stallone; he’s a gruff yet strangely charismatic action star who happens to be a better actor than the lion’s share of his peers. He has no complex emotions to get across but he manages to tackle the grumpy aged badass a lot better than Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis have. His age is acknowledged (the primary female character of the movie is his character’s adult daughter) but the fact that he’s in probably the best shape of his entire career keeps an endless torrent of Roger Murtaugh lines from spilling forth.
Now, let’s address the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Sung Kang was not the original choice for Kwon, in fact the race of the character was not even Asian. Actor Thomas Jane was hired on to the project to play the cop role but was kicked out by Joel Silver who insisted on someone “more ethnic” due to a dubious formula he claimed worked for the movies he produced. It really is a shame since Thomas Jane needs to be in more things and he undoubtedly would’ve been great in this. Fuck it, though. There’s not enough Asian people in large roles in movies, so even though it’s kind of disgusting that ethnic diversity in a cast is nothing more than a money-making formula to Joel Silver, it’s a step in the right direction. Surely they can find a charismatic Asian actor among what is most certainly a score of men wanting to play something other than businessmen and Yakuza thugs, right? Yes actually, Sung Kang may not be Thomas Jane but he doesn’t feel like they just picked the first guy they found and called it good. Admittedly I would bet that Kwon wasn’t a tech savvy martial artist when he was a white guy in the script, but the character manages to never feel forced in spite of this and that’s largely thanks to Sung Kang.
I don’t know what happened or when it happened but my aggressive burning hatred for Jason Momoa has lowered to benign simmer. It used to be every time I saw his weird angular head (seriously, does his forehead have a pelvis?) I would be overtaken by a great annoyance but now I enjoy seem him pop up in non-Conan the Barbarian things; I propose that this sort of sudden change of opinion be referred to as “Channing Tatum syndrome.” Mamoa joins the grand tradition of large menacing bastards alongside Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Randall “Tex” Cobb, and Brian “No Nickname” Thompson. He really sells the deadliness of his character and from first glance you can tell he’s going to be the real villain of the movie, which is good because Christian Slater’s oily lawyer and Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje’s crime boss aren’t very compelling enemies.
My one major gripe with Bullet to the Head (aside from the script) is the climactic fight between Momoa and Stallone that’s glimpsed briefly in the trailer: they duel with fire axes but it never reaches its logical conclusion and I don’t know why. The climax of the fight is certainly bloody and doesn’t shy away from a violent conclusion, but if you see a gun in a movie, wouldn’t you expect someone to get shot at some point? The same logic applies for any prominently featured weapon. To put it more bluntly: why ain’t nobody get axed?
Bullet to the Head is the victim of a weak script, a safe concept, and a few missed opportunities. If you’re a Walter Hill fan expecting the next Warriors, Streets of Fire, or Southern Comfort then you’re gonna be disappointed but the only barrier between enjoyment and hatred is overblown expectations. Bullet to the Head is flawed but through the people involved it’s better than the sum of its part and a satisfying, if not triumphant, return to form of a beloved cult director after a too-long absence. Hill’s style is all over this thing (at times it feels like a companion piece to Red Heat) and it’s a welcome return, even if he didn’t bring Ry Cooder with him.
The only special feature of note is a featurette on the action choreography and Stallone’s gun training. Blu-Ray and DVD editions of the movie are both in the same box in spite of the fact that the box does not advertise this. Both have English and Spanish subtitles. The blu-ray is presented in 1080p High Definition 16×9 1.85:1 with DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars