Walter Hill has been down this road before. 48 HOURS... RED HEAT... ANOTHER 48 HOURS... Hill was an integral part of defining the mismatched partners/buddy formula that helped take action movies to the next level in the 80s. People like one guy kicking ass against some vile bad guy and his merry band of henchmen... but they love when it's two guys taking down the criminals, especially when they're from different backgrounds, different philosophies, different ethnicities. There's something about two guys who don't get along getting along for one common goal - stopping evil-doers - that warms our hearts time and time again. It's a tried and tested formula that works (How else do you explain those Jackie Chan-Owen Wilson movies?), and Hill was one of the catalysts for making it work at its pinnacle. However, it's been about a 10 years since his last feature film - 2002's UNDISPUTED - and Hill is trying to recapture the lightning he caught in a bottle now nearly three decades by pairing up action icon Sylvester Stallone and Sung Kang (known best for the FAST/FURIOUS franchise) to take down some corrupt scumbags in BULLET TO THE HEAD. Unfortunately, when half of your lead pairing absolutely sucks the life out of every scene they're a part of and then you have a razor thin plot of what the duo is chasing down to begin with, the only thing that gets taken down is the entire film.
Stallone is a New Orleans hitman named Jimmy Bobo with a long line of run-ins with the law (26 arrests, 4 trials, 2 convictions), who, after his partner gets whacked, goes off to search for the party responsible for the double-cross. Kang plays Detective Taylor Kwon, out of town law enforcement who arrives on the scene to investigate the connection between a case he's on and the murder of a sketchy former cop. Soon enough, they'll realize they're following the same trail and decide it's in their best interest to work together, even though Stallone is a criminal who hates cops and Kang is a by-the-book detective who doesn't believe in such rough tactics as Stallone would apply. Stallone does his best to at least make the film entertaining, throwing out some quips every once in awhile to remind you that BULLET TO THE HEAD should be fun, and being physically imposing enough to establish that, even at 66, he's more than capable of holding his own in a fight. But Kang is a complete disaster, absolutely draining any energy the film has with every moment they're on-screen. I understand the premise that this straight-laced cop is the complete opposite of Jimmy Bobo, but that doesn't mean he should carry no personality at all, simply because Stallone is full of it. Every line feels like a monotone delivery, as if by-the-book means boring in not only his methods and actions, but also his words. And Hill does him no favors either, allowing the character to constantly use his cell phone to either call in for a background check on a suspect or person of interest or search it on his smartphone's browser. There's no actual detecting going on with this detective, but there is plenty of him using technology to get such information which will move them to the next beat in the story. It's perfectly acceptable for a detective to use the quickest means available to him in order to move fast in his pursuit... but that doesn't translate well to the screen at all. Get your hands dirty, detective. Handle some evidence. Interrogate some suspects. Stake out the bad guys. Follow their cars to their hidden hideouts. Calling someone on the phone to get an address or known associates is bullshit, and, in allowing this to be the main participation of half this dysfunctional crime-fighting duo, I'm not even sure why Kang is in BULLET TO THE HEAD, when his role could have easily been taken by a mannequin with a smartphone glued to its hand. Can you imagine Nick Nolte being dull and lifeless opposite Eddie Murphy in 48 HOURS? Or Jim Belushi cracking zero jokes against Schwarzenegger in RED HEAT? Because that's what you get with Kang here, and it's not pretty.
There's some tangled web as to who is really behind the the initial hit that sets Stallone and Kang off on their vigilante mission, but you're barely able to follow it through Kang's spoken-word exposition, as you're too busy hoping he'd stop talking rather than wading through his dialogue for anything of significant value. Christian Slater and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje are involved, but it doesn't really matter in what respect, because you only want someone to be served up as fodder for Stallone, especially when more Stallone action means less Kang everything else.
If there is one bright spot to BULLET TO THE HEAD, it's Jason Momoa who is the one member of the cast, outside of Sly, that brings a high level of bad-ass-ness to the film. As the mercenary Keegan, he has one purpose and one purpose only - to kill - and he enjoys it in an entertainingly sick way, because you know it's going to lead to the inevitable showdown with Jimmy Bobo. If there's one thing that BULLET shows, it's that someone needs to give Momoa an action franchise now. Yeah, yeah... I know... CONAN sucked... but that poor attempt at a reboot absolutely failed what Momoa brings to the table, to which any fan of GAME OF THRONES can attest. He is great to watch here as a bloodthirsty villain, and, if you wanted to put him on the heroic side of things, I wouldn't complain either. But at a time when we're so starved for good American action flicks, Momoa is an unmined diamond out there in the rough just waiting.
Whether it's his unnecessary use of filtered transitions that are supposed to look stylish but come across more as the tool of someone who was deadset on using them but didn't know exactly how or when, his choice of Steve Mazzaro to delivery this bluesy and repetitive score that forcibly beats you over the head with the idea that this film takes place in the Big Easy, or the terrible miscasting of Sung Kang, Walter Hill absolutely fails BULLET TO THE HEAD. I guess I can give him some credit for at least trying to go old-school with an action flick that may have fit better in the early 80s even if it wouldn't necessarily have played better... but he still falls victim to some of those new-school action techniques such as editing the shit out of a climatic fight, leaving you unable to tell what's going on through its rapid series of cuts. Way to ruin an axe fight.
BULLET TO THE HEAD probably never would have been a good movie, but it could have been one of those serviceable guilty pleasures that you watch when you come home after a rough day and just want to see some violence. I guess it delivers on the latter part of that equation, but it's the amount of awfulness you have to sit through in order to even get that that makes BULLET TO THE HEAD so terrible.
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