Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bullet To The Head

Res Ipsa Loquitor: The Thing Speaks For Itself

Sung Kang as Taylor Kwon and Sylvester Stallone as Jimmy Bobo in Walter Hill's comedy action film "Bullet To The Head".  Frank Masi/Warner Brothers

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Sunday, February 3, 2013

Walter Hill returns to the politically incorrect territory of the lead characters in his famous "48 HRS." 30 years ago with "Bullet To The Head", a ridiculous and pointless exercise that's perversely entertaining, enlivened by the lumbering presence of the hulking, intensely muscular figure of Sylvester Stallone as Jimmy Bobo, a hit-man who begrudgingly teams with the dumbest cop in movie history, Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), to find out who was behind the killing of Jimmy's hit-man partner Louis (Jon Seda).

Set and shot in New Orleans (the site of today's Super Bowl), "Bullet To The Head" speaks loudly for itself.  A bullet literally burrows through the Warner Brothers and production company logos prior to the opening credits.  This film knows exactly what it is and doesn't pretend otherwise.  For bloodthirsty action fans its title delivers: people's heads shot off at close range and close-up, like firecrackers.  Never mind that much of America is still reeling from Newtown and other mass shootings (while other smaller ones continue) and moviegoers are recovering from hyper-violent January disasters "Gangster Squad" and "The Last Stand"

Mr. Hill's film is so foolish, so riddled with clichés, appallingly bad dialogue and a sloppy script overall by Alessandro Camon (based on Alexis Nolent's graphic novel "Du plomb dans la tête") that you couldn't possibly take it seriously.  We have no real clue why Louis is killed.  (Nor frankly, did I care.)  We get a cameo from Christian Slater as a corrupt lawyer with ties to a criminal network led by a charismatic villain (admirably played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and muscled by a pony-tailed assassin (Jason Momoa, "Conan The Barbarian".)  We get a PG-13-rated "Eyes Wide Shut" masked-ball episode.  There's a mentioned but unresolved parallel of black panther and/or leopard tattoos on the backs of two different women.  Strange.

"Bullet To The Head" is best interpreted as a parody of a hitman's noir-like episodes or, more accurately, a parody of Mr. Stallone himself from his 1980s action days.  He's a Philistine, a Luddite, a man who still lives in Ronald Reagan's 1980s, or heck, the Stone Age.  Jimmy tangles with the dimwitted Taylor, using the blunt, efficient dual tools of knives and one-liners versus Taylor's verbosity and technological know-how.  Jimmy, older and impatient, likes to get to the point quickly.  He's forever baffled by cell phones and the vast information one can obtain from them.  It's a similar conversation to the initial one that James Bond and Q have in "Skyfall": the old and new ways of fighting crime. 

Speaking of crime: in a litany of black and white photos during Mr. Hill's action drama we're treated to mug shots of Mr. Stallone, some of which literally look lifted from "Rocky" (1976) and other films.  Mr. Stallone's voice has a slightly mocking Mickey Spillane-type private eye-cadence to it, only much deeper in tone, as he mentions that his Jimmy character has been arrested more than two dozen times.  Jimmy drops in on his daughter Lisa (Sarah Shahi).  "I'll be in touch," are the last words Jimmy wearily says to her.

The irony of "Bullet To The Head" is that its characters sometimes bring knives and axes to gunfights.  Fists trump guns in some moments, and the title itself is also a metaphor for the avoidance of thinking or logic and reason -- a perfect explanation of Taylor, whom the script sells short the most.  Mr. Kang, a bright, enterprising presence on screen, just cannot light the lamp for Taylor, his mega-lame police character, who, for all his technological proficiency lags Jimmy in common sense.  Taylor is the film's editorial bouquet to the idea that all the techno-savvy in the world doesn't necessarily make them smarter.  Mr. Kang is the film's straw man Mr. Stallone all-too-easily knocks down, and often.  It's both funny and sad.

Despite such duplicity it's easy to imagine Mr. Hill's film as a guilty pleasure.  I laughed at its preposterousness and Mr. Stallone's casual abruptness and cynicism the way I laughed at the antics of Nicolas Cage in last year's hapless "Ghost Rider 2".  There's a recklessness and craziness in Mr. Hill's escapades that undeniably fits the film's low-hanging fruit.  "Bullet To The Head" is strictly willing to engage in its basest or titillating platforms of blood and boobs though not at the same time.  It takes a certain kind of insanity to make a bad and brainless film entertaining, and if nothing else, Mr. Hill and Mr. Stallone succeed at that.

Also with: Marcus Lyle Brown, Dane Rhodes, Brian Van Holt, Weronika Rosati, Holt McCallany.

"Bullet To The Head" opened on Friday across the U.S. and Canada.  The film is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use.  The film's running time is one hour and 31 minutes.  

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