Harsh Texture

Bullet to the Head

Aging hitman survives a double cross and reluctantly partners with a young cop

After a routine assassination, Jimmy Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) and young partner Louis (Jon Seda) gets betrayed by their handler. Instead of collecting a paycheck another hitman (Jason Momoa) lays in wait at the rendezvous point. He makes quick work of Louis but Jimmy escapes unharmed. The original hit caught the attention of an out of town officer, Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang). Unlike the whole of the New Orleans police force, Kwon is able to immediately deduce Jimmy’s involvement.  

It’s takes a special kind of humility to be featured in a Sylvester Stallone movie. Normally buddy cop films find means to prove that despite any cultural differences, its leads are equally capable. Stallone, though, has a devolutionary effect on everyone around him. Spend too much time and the costars wind up with multiple wounds and walking into obvious traps.Have the wherewithal to be a strong independent woman and slowly get ground into a helpless victim.

The technology involved here should produce a bit of chuckle. Kwon’s fancy phone looks to be a Blackberry which even in 2012 was already an anachronism. Its treated as a magic talisman nonetheless, with Jimmy astounded that Kwon could research his whole history from the comfort of the car. Jimmy, and by the extension the whole world of Bullet in the Head, seems stuck in the mid nineties when fax machines were still a luxury. Two MacGuffins that spur the plot involve a paper file and a usb flash drive that each hold incriminating information. It never occurs to any of the characters to make copies of these and distribute them.

The talent that Stallone’s able to assemble for his later pictures are either up and comers or the sadly washed up. That aside, they are top notch. He gets a bargain in director Walter Hill.  While there’s nothing here to match the intensity of the fights in Hard Times, or even the more recent, sadly undervalued Undisputed, Hill still has the eye of a major director. While you might think $55 million (minus the $12 million Sly demanded) would have gone further the production never looks like a TV Movie, which is the low bar of modern action films.  

Christian Slater gets a blatantly thankless role, playing the disposable second villain. Remember when Jon Seda was an up and comer on Homicide? No? He barely lasts five minutes of screen time, and its any wonder he can walk without Stallone to keep him from tripping.

On the other end of the spectrum, Sung Kang is much better utilized by the Fast and Furious franchise. Besides walking chin first into every setup thrown at him, Kang is used to volley Stallone’s racially insensitive commentary. There’s a faint echo of Hill’s 48 Hours in this banter, but Stallone is no Nick Nolte, and that aside, those exchanges haven’t aged well despite their reputation.

Jason Momoa is still looking to build on the success of his Game of Thrones role, and doesn’t find much here. Being a villain in a Stallone picture isn’t the worst lot for an actor. Brian Dennehy, Carl Weathers, Mr. T, and Dolph Lundgren got their best roles as Stallone’s foils. Likewise Momoa gets built up quite a bit throughout the film as legitimately dangerous. In the climactic final battle, he even gets to land a few punches to Stallone before ultimately the old man wins the day.

Published: Aug. 6, 2017, 4:54 p.m.
Updated: Aug. 6, 2017, 4:54 p.m.