It’s been a very long time since a film carried by Sylvester Stallone alone was an actual domestic blockbuster. I only bring this up because Stallone’s career is so intriguing. Although he’s appeared in over 60 films, Stallone’s most successful works have been entries in one of the three franchises he created: Rocky, Rambo, and The Expendables. Commercially, at least, Stallone is no longer the box-office superstar he once was considered.
This is interesting because Bullet to the Head is a classic Stallone genre picture. Recently, in a review of The Last Stand, I described how Arnold Schwarzenegger has allowed his stereotypical character to age – and to do so without vanity. Nothing like that happens here. Bullet to the Head is pure, primal Stallone – in control, at peak form, and bedecked with gleaming muscles. Not only is the film chock full of Stallone in action, it also has him offering up an unending series of one-liners.
Hit man James Bonomo (Stallone) is hired to take out a corrupt ex-cop. Working with his partner Louis (Seda), Bonomo executes the target, and they celebrate their success afterward in a bar. There, ex-mercenary Keegan (Momoa) kills Louis. While seeking vengeance, Bonomo hooks up with Detective Taylor Kwon (Kang), who is interested in the link between both killings. Meanwhile, corrupt cops who are after Kwon end up wounding him, so Bonomo takes Kwon to a former med student and tattoo artist (Shahi), who just happens to be Bonomo’s daughter. With great hesitation on both sides, Bonomo and Kwon team up to solve the case. What follows is a pulpy action film of double-crosses, ambushes, detective work, and villains – all set to a constant chorus of shooting, explosions, and physical combat.
The film is a hoot and goes by quickly, but there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. Walter Hill was once regarded as one of the industry’s great, young cinematic talents, having directed Hard Times, The Driver, The Warriors, The Long Riders, Southern Comfort, 48 Hrs. and Streets of Fire (1975-1984) right out of the gate. (The Driver and Streets of Fire are particularly underappreciated.) There are other great titles throughout his career, but a number of notable misses as well. In 2004, he helmed the premiere episode of Deadwood and both parts of Broken Trail, which seemed a return to form. This film also hits the target, but it’s a big, obvious one, a soap-opera-predictable cavalcade of violence.