Bullet to the Head is a simple film which adopts the mantra of starting as you mean to go on: epitomised by its very first scene, as Sylvester Stallone’s hitman Jimmy Bobo leans into a car and – yes, you guessed it – puts a bullet into someone’s head.
There have been many a throwback to the classic eighties revenge movies in recent years, from the Dwayne Johnson vehicle Faster in 2010, to Schwarzenegger’s recent return to cinema in The Last Stand. All of these films are linked through excessive violence, a minimalistic approach and a muscular protagonist. And while Bullet to the Head certainly isn’t the best film of this collection or anywhere close to the best, it is certainly one of the most quotable.
While you would expect a level of unevenness to accompany Bullet to the Head’s ‘trashy action flick’ status, sometimes it feels a little overboard and inconsistent. The plot moves rapidly, following Stallone’s character as he moves from mourning his partner Louis’ death, to partnering with Washington D.C. detective Kwon (played by Sung Kang, famous for his part in the Fast and Furious franchise) in order to seek his vengeance and uncover those who betrayed him. Stallone maintains, as you might expect, a strict monotone throughout his lines, which lends an additional layer of unintended comedy to certain, more serious scenes as he laments his fate and the neglect he has shown his estranged daughter over the years.
If there ever was a reminder about the career of forgotten actors, it would be embodied by the puzzling presence of Christian Slater in Bullet to the Head. At one time, a more inscrutable actor who was cast in John Woo films, and genuinely interesting projects such as He Was a Quiet Man, Slater is here wasted as an irritating playboy billionaire who stays the weaker link in a chain full of stronger villains. Far more interesting is the mercenary Keegan, portrayed by the ever-popular Jason Momoa of Game of Thrones fame, as a towering, ruthless menace who represents Stallone’s physical match.
Of course, no review of this film would be complete without visiting some of Bullet to the Head’s lighter moments. The writers frequently go for the comedic angle of the buddy-cop relationship which develops between Bobo and Kwon, though the humour misfires almost nearly as often. In a couple of particularly scenes, Stallone’s character makes reference to Kwon’s ‘samurai way,’ only for Kwon to inform him that he is Korean. Learning clearly isn’t one of Bobo’s strengths, and he later makes another crude reference to Kwon as Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher. While the aspects of casual racism were confined to these scenes, it was moments like these when I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
In the end, a film should be judged on two merits. First, to look at what it aims to achieve and how it intends to carry this out, and secondly, on how well or effectively the film achieves its aim by the end. With this in mind, shoddy editing work and a dry selection of characters means that though Bullet to the Head is immensely entertaining, it doesn’t quite reach the level of sophistication or playfulness as its ‘trashy action flick’ rival The Last Stand.