Welcome to another random occasional film review where I disagree with somebody that dismissed a perfectly good film as shit!
Today’s review is crime/action thriller ‘Bullet to the Head’, a collaboration between action legend Sylvester Stallone and filmmaker legend Walter Hill that has recently arrived on DVD.
Before I cut to the meat, I’d like to wash over some facts I’d like to think are important to understand about the making of this film. It may not be groundbreaking and it may seem like your average hard-hitting action 80’s throwback, but you see, that’s what you need to expect in this case.
Never has Sylvester Stallone worked with Walter Hill, the man that either wrote, directed or produced (or all three):
The Getaway, The Driver, Alien, The Warriors, 48 Hours, Brewsters Millions, Streets of Fire, Crossroads, Red Heat, Extreme Prejudice, Johnny Handsome, Trespass, Wild Bill, Last Man Standing, Deadwood and Prometheus.
Walter Hill hasn’t only worked with some of the most influential people in classic and modern cinema, he made them and he influenced them. James Remar got his first job through Hill, Schwarzenegger got one of the best films of his career from Hill, when the shit hits the fan, Ridley Scott counts on Walter Hill.
And yet the old rogue likes to make those small movies that can always beat a big budget bruiser to the ground any day of the week. It’s his forte. Ever since the Warriors made cult classic another name for money-maker, Hill has knocked out classic after classic, an extensive library of film spanning genres and decades… LIKE A BOSS!!!
It only made sense that after a long time away from the director’s chair, Hill would want to make a comeback with another king of comebacks and that man is the action legend he never ever worked with; Sly Stallone!
I’m not surprised if anyone that was aware of and appreciated this fact was pissing their pants with excitement and I don’t think those are the people that felt let down by Bullet in the Head as it didn’t particularly make waves at the cinema. Fuck that, who cares? Cinema is an exclusive bully that doesn’t favour the films it can’t market to a majority audience and Hill – being the stubborn old man he is and NOT needing to earn a living since the 80’s – didn’t give a shit who didn’t turn up.
Bullet to the Head is what comic book companies would call a One-Shot. It’s not intended to be a trilogy and it isn’t going to be a series, it’s a tidy package of well-executed classic gunplay, fighting, offensive dialoge and a story that won’t hurt your poor little head, nor leave your intelligence feeling insulted. That is what Hill specialises in; short and sweet and thrilling.
Bullet… is based on a French graphic novel, ‘Du Plomb Dans La Tete’, written by Alexis Nolent, which explains Hill’s colourful and well-rounded style of direction, not to mention the return to one of his favourite places to film, Louisiana.
James Bonomo aka Jimmy Bobo (Stallone) is an old-school New Orleans mob hitman – jaded and hot tempered, regretful, bitter and discriminate and yet not without a sense of humour. He and his partner pull a hit on drugged up loser Hank Greely, who turns out to have once been a cop, also the former partner of Washington DC detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang).
When Bobo’s partner Louis is later murdered by hulking mercenary Keegan, who Bobo narrowly escapes, this brings detective Kwon looking for Bobo and yet with half the police force being corrupt and with ties to Keegan’s employer, an attempt is made on Kwon’s life before he is saved by Bobo, whose wing he is forced under out of self-preservation.
They set about trying to piece together the puzzle with mutual hate for each other. Bobo after all is responsible for the hit on Greely. But what’s humorous about Bullet is that the cop is a total dick, whereas Bobo is grumpy and gets upset a lot over his lack of manners. Enter Bobo’s estranged daughter, Lisa (Sara Shahi, nomnomnomnom)…
It’s a tattooed girl thing you wouldn’t understand…
…and we get a slow burning narrative as to why Bobo is so burned out and regretful. It’s not Oscar material, what did you expect, you fucking snobs? In action films, a well-told story is all you really need. You don’t need to stop washing your hair and grow a curly moustache like Daniel Day Lewis to deliver a fucking script.
We then also get to see that Detective Kwon is so green and wet behind the ears that he’d better suit being a frog than a DC detective. Which is kinda funny when you think about it (Princess/Frog… Hottie/Douchebag). Plenty of laughs watching Stallone getting mad over Kang looking at his on-screen daughter the wrong way…
That’s the kind of dialogue and narrative I liked to see in Hill’s classics and with Allessandro Camon writing the script, and not Hill, feel there’s hope for the future of witty action thrillers. Somebody out there can write a Walter Hill-style script. That makes me want to watch more films.
From the villains’ perspective, that’s where things aren’t so colourful except for Conan manimal Jason Momoa’s character Keegan, who reminded me of old James Remar and Sonny Landham psycho villains.
Keegan is a merc looking to get to the top of the criminal underwold and make his money. As a seasoned combat veteran, working all over the world for whoever will pay him, he has the influence (lost of cannon fodder henchmen) and is unflinching in the face of death. On the paying side and looking at Jimmy Bobo and Detective Kwon as loose ends are Morel and Baptiste, a crime lord and corrupt lawyer.
It doesn’t take long for Bobo to make himself understood…
Christian Slater as Baptiste, I feel, wasn’t completely into it. But then he hasn’t played anything with integrity since Heathers (or Kuffs hahaha). Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje however is straightforwardly slimy as greedy and somewhat naive crime lord Morel, who believes he is taking Keegan under his wing.
With that, this film rests on Stallone, Kang and Shahi doing their song and dance with some nifty action and drama scenes while Momoa manhandles people like I haven’t seen onscreen outside of wrestler Batista on WWE. The man is beasty, to be frank. And you wonder how the hell Stallone is going to deal with this shit, since his movie brawling opponents seem to get more extreme the older he gets.
Well without spoiling anything, the final half of the film lets rip with some jaw-dropping fast and hard as hell action. I’m not even kidding when I say I applaud some of the stuntmen for looking like they might have crippled themselves here and there. And of course…
WHAT ABOUT THE MOTHERFUCKING FIRE-AXE FIGHT???
Lets get this straight, Momoa versus Stallone with axes (with Kang running around in a Die Hard vest, which was a bit cliched but who’s really arsed?). I had to rewind and watch from the beginning about five times just to believe my eyes because that was without a doubt one of the best face-offs with sharp heavy objects ever devoted to film. All I thought was HOW THE FUCK DID NOBODY LOSE AN ARM AND A LEG OR A HEAD?
Don’t knock this film until you’ve seen it, it’s not the best film there ever was but it’s effortless, slick and heavy hitting action with a comic slant and it’s really bloody well-made. Walter Hill may never make a flawless epic but he always knows how to tie a project together and this is almost identical to his classic fare, just so much better produced than they were back in the day.
And don’t believe your friends if they tell you it’s crap. A friend of mine, to his credit I guess, said that it was bad but in a good way. Well he might talk out of his arse but I’m used to the smell and I’m not afraid to have my own opinion. It’s awesome, despite the fact that it isn’t perfect. Who wants perfection anyway?!!