Bullet to the Head

Critic rating:
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MPAA rating: R
Genre: Action/Adventure
An adaptation of the graphic novel, starring Sylvester Stallone.
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi, Jason Momoa, Christian Slater, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jon Seda, Holt McCallany, Beau Brasseaux, Weronika Rosati
Director: Walter Hill
Release: Opened Feb 1, 2013
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Editorial Review

Shoot, another empty coconut
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, February 1, 2013

“Are we gonna fight, or do you plan on boring me to death?”

That’s one of Sylvester Stallone’s signature deadpan quips in “Bullet to the Head,” a movie that makes extravagant work of doing both. A nasty, pulpy, occasionally risible advertisement for its superannuated muscle-bound star, this adaptation of the graphic novel plays it straight when it should wink and careers into chaotic, unimaginative mayhem when it should go long on style.

Directed by action veteran Walter Hill, “Bullet to the Head” is the latest in a dispiriting line of ballistically minded misfires to land in theaters the past several weeks. With any justice, it will sink as rapidly into obscurity as its equally distasteful forebears: Mr. Stallone, meet “Parker,” “Jack Reacher” and the gun-happy goons of “Gangster Squad.”

Like the antiheroes of those movies, Stallone’s Jimmy “Bobo” Bonomo is a snarly, sneering vigilante, who in this case is working as a New Orleans hit man when his partner unexpectedly gets knifed in a bar. Soon, a Washington detective named Kwon (Sung Kang) arrives on the scene, investigating the murder of his partner. Before long the lawman and the outlaw are working in tandem, eventually crossing paths with a Garden District big shot with a penchant for throwing costume parties with a decided absence of costumes (and whose own sidekick is played by erstwhile Barbaric Conan Jason Momoa.)

Christian Slater’s first on-screen moment as that villain provides one of the unintended laughs in “Bullet to the Head,” as does his biggest scene, in which he delivers a soaring expository aria that gets more amusing with every “Wait, there’s more!” cadenza. In this movie elements like story and dialogue are only pesky details to be dispensed with in between the real deliverables: fistfights, knife fights, gunfights, axe fights and one explosive showdown at the catfish corral that whet the filmmakers’ insatiable appetite for figuring out new ways for people to brutalize one another.

Things go bang and things go boom in “Bullet to the Head,” which plays like such a floundering exercise in macho overcompensation that you almost feel sorry for it. Almost.

Stallone gets to deliver a few choice one-liners, and a montage of Bobo’s mug shots addresses with refreshing directness how his persona has changed over the years, from Rocky to Rambo and beyond. But the self-awareness of that sequence is completely at odds with Stallone’s posture throughout “Bullet to the Head,” in which he resembles something of a human waxwork, his cosmetically distorted face a Habsburg-lipped burlesque of his once sensuous scowl.

Hill, who directed the “48 Hrs.” franchise, never cooks up enough comic chemistry between his co-stars to qualify “Bullet to the Head” as a raucous buddy movie (unless you count a few vaguely racist put-downs and the requisite “you kids and your newfangled gadgets” rant against Kwon’s decidedly old-fangled BlackBerry).

Instead, Hill and Stallone seem determined simply to prove that, even in their golden years, they’re still tough enough to rumble with all comers. “Bullet to the Head” exposes that bravado for the pose that it is, and it’s not a good look.

Contains strong violence, bloody images, profanity, some nudity and brief drug use.