Review: Bullet to the Head


While Schwarzenegger has just recently returned to full blown action status Sylvester Stallone has been churning out  action films at a steady clip. The increasingly muscular actor, who clearly has issues finding t-shirts that won’t rip when he puts them on, hasn’t really reclaimed any of his action glory (outside of The Expendables) with any of these films. Bullet to the Head is his latest attempt to do so.

Previous Stallone-only actioners have come across as cheap and stupid consistently. Mostly they involve Stallone attempting to fit through doorways and getting into a series of poor action sequences. Even worse is that he thinks he can recapture some of his Rocky/Rambo (the first ones) magic and infuse some actual drama into the work. Does Bullet to the Head conform to the trend?

Bullet to the Head
Director: Walter Hill
Rated: R
Release Date: February 1, 2013

One has to give props to Bullet to the Head for actually filming in New Orleans, which is where we find  contract killer James Bonomo (Stallone) on a hit with his partner. But after they get double crossed Bonomo finds himself on his own going up against a real estate mogul who bribes the government for special contracts and Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater), a rich playboy. Of course no action hero can go it alone so Washington, DC detective-on-loan Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) joins up with Bonomo to take down the bad guys. Their first obstacle is taking down henchman and killer Keegan (Jason Momoa).

The worst part of the film is that its two leads just don’t work. Kwon is supposed to be a special agent sent down from DC because he’s a great cop, but the second he starts working with Stallone (because working with a criminal is the only way to get to the true bad guys) he becomes a rookie. His repeated idealism is actually more like stupidity and the love story between him and Bonomo’s daughter is the weakest excuse to get an attractive woman (Sarah Shahi) into an action movie I’ve seen in years. It’s supposed to be an odd couple type of thing (director Walter Hill also directed the likes of 48 Hrs.), but it doesn’t work because neither character plays off each other. The rampant racist jokes that Bonomo throws out get old very quickly as well. The movie doesn’t make their contrasts stand out enough either so that the whole cop/criminal relationship turns into two guys sitting in a car.

The film’s plot is paper thin as well, especially since most of the story’s forward progress comes from the fact that Kwon can find any information he wants from his Blackberry in a matter of seconds. While the movie attempts to hide this cheap plot trick by joking about Kwon’s new school “phone style” compared to Bonomo’s old school “flip-phone style” it’s still a really weak storytelling gimmick.

You’re probably not heading to a Stallone picture for the in depth plot and character development anyway. You want blood (check), fights (check), breasts (check) and Christian Slater acting like a mad man (check). If that is absolutely all you want out of this movie then you are not going to leave displeased. The film is definitely rated R with plenty of blood flying from bullet wounds and a surprisingly copious amount of nudity. The action is seriously old school as well. This isn’t a kung fu fight film, it’s big muscular men tackling each other. There are actually some very solid fist fights sprinkled throughout the film. I’d even go as far to say that the film’s one-liners hit as well, which is something Stallone has been struggling with recently. 

Hill is an old school action director and wisely keeps his directing in that style. There’s no slow motion or crazy stunt work to be seen and that is definitely how you use a star like Stallone. Of course this also means that the action can get a little repetitive as Stallone basically gets into one fist fight after another. Add to this the fact that any interaction that isn’t fists being thrown or guns shooting is often painful to watch and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a 91 minute movie that starts feeling a lot longer. By the end, despite enjoying some parts, I really just wanted it to all be over.

Despite my headlines claim that you’ll desperately want to get out of this movie Bullet to the Head delivers on what you would expect from a January action movie starring Sylvester Stallone, but it doesn’t do much more than that. If you don’t think that this kind of movie needs to do anything more than there’s absolutely no reason not to go see it. However, if you’re interested in a film that’s actually worth your money then saving this for streaming is the best advice. 

Matthew Razak
Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.