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Bullet to the Head

February 7, 2013

directed by Walter Hill, 2013

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If you cast aside the sophomoric and familiar narrative of Walter Hill’s latest feature Bullet to the Head, what are you left with? All Stallone. All the time. The ageless action star of yesteryear is now 67, and can surprisingly still do his thing when called upon. The film follows his tattooed and roided out James Bonomo, a lifelong New Orléans criminal turned hitman who still finds pleasure in doing things his way – quick, easy, and to the point; a method that is looked down upon by Kwon, an up and coming Washington D.C. detective played by Sung Kang. The two are thrust into a traditional throwaway plot involving a common enemy represented by shady businessmen taking the form of Christian Slater, Adewale Akinnuoye-Ajbaje, and their intimidating mercenary Keegan, played by Jason Momoa.

While I can’t attest to being much of a Hill fan in general, Bullet to the Head plays like a brutally entertaining callback to the Stallone shtick of old: films unapologetic in their surface level offerings, each of which trudge alone with a brassy head of steam while never even contemplating the idea of looking back. When Stallone’s character isn’t furiously throwing his body around and engaging in bathhouse executions, he shares an unforeseen chemistry with Kwon; while the generation gap and set of rules that divide the two is rather large, each share some sort of mutual understanding that underlines their relationship. In between bouts of violence, the two ride around discussing the ethics of smartphones’ instant access to information. Most of the beauty of Bonomo’s detachment from modern technology is in the irony that his cars and secret hideouts come rigged with explosives. His language isn’t Google, as he’s the kind of lughead who walks into a bar and orders “2 bullets bourbon.” He’s estranged from his daughter, but feels comfortable dropping in on her in times of businesslike distress. Hill’s film moves at a decent clip, but is casually stripped of any narrative or character ambition. Other than the potency of the action (and there’s a lot of it), the thought of Stallone making us smirk after each reliably proofed one-liner is something of a tiny wonder. And while Stallone’s bursting veins and muscles are falsely manufactured, Bullet to the Head’s  aggressively kinetic pulse is not. Bonomo’s foes lay out their half-assed plan and we’re made privy to the resounding destruction that will undoubtedly ensue. It’s a film about the toll of violence and confrontations that almost always end badly. And here’s a film that thrives even when we can predict who the victor will be.

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