Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bullet to the Head

I am all for this recent resurgence of classic 80s action stars. I may not like The Expendables franchise at all, but I get why it’s so popular – it’s a throwback to the glory days of old where men were big damn macho dudes with massive machine guns (aka their penises) taking out wave after wave of faceless minions without breaking a sweat or losing a drop of blood all to save some helpless chick with heaving breasts and low self-esteem. Seeing childhood heroes such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone up on the big screen once again doing what they do best is a big thrill for me, so when I say that Sly’s latest venture back into the spotlight is one of his all-time worst films I do so with a heavy, heavy heart.

James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) is a hitman whose partner (Jon Ceda) has just been killed by rival assassin Keegan (Jason Momoa) in the name of local gangster Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). In order to avenge his friend’s death, Bonomo teams up with a detective (Sung Kang) to take down their common enemy.
For an action movie, this flick is straight up boring. Half the movie takes place inside Bonomo’s car where he and Detective Kwon talk about nothing important, make pointless cell phone calls and throw lame, unfunny bromance insults at one another. When there is action it is short, badly choreographed and unremarkable. Sure Jason Momoa (Stargate: Atlantis, Conan the Barbarian 3D) has what it takes to be a great action star if given the right material, but here he’s playing against an old dude pushing 70 that would probably go down after one right hook so it does his career no favors.

Stallone is in full arrogance mode here, and as far as I’m concerned his character was completely unlikable. Sure what happens in the last act is due to his daughter being kidnapped and his quest to rescue her, but he put her in the position to be taken so I felt no sympathy. He just snarls and recites crappy dialogue with attitude for the whole movie. I never connected with him or any other character due to the shitty writing and pedestrian directing. I like Sung Kang (Better Luck Tomorrow, Fast & Furious, Fast Five, Furious 6) just fine, but he is annoying as fuck in this flick. Jason Momoa looks like he’s trying his hardest to come off as a true threat to the characters, but the fact his part is so small and underdeveloped hampers all his efforts. Not even seeing the usually entertaining Christian Slater in a theatrical role again did anything to liven up this DOA turd.
The main problem is that it feels like it was tinkered with a little too much. Stallone is infamous for rewriting the movies he stars in to accommodate his own tastes and ego, so whatever he did to doctor up this script was a big mistake. He made the characters interchangeable and indistinguishable from one another, filled their mouths with some of the worst dialogue ever written (“Guns don’t kill people. Bullets do.”) and had them do absolutely nothing for 90 minutes. I would be curious to read screenwriter Alessandro Camon’s original draft before Stallone put his ‘roid raging mitts all over it.

Director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours, Red Heat) was brought in at the last minute to take the helm after Stallone had original director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler, Running Scared) fired due to not sharing his “vision” for the film. Back in the 70s and 80s Hill was at the top of his game. That isn’t the case in the 2010s. His pacing is lethargic and he seems just fine with having the star walk all over him. The result is a film that is worse than his critical/financial megabomb Supernova. It goes nowhere, the reason for all the shenanigans is never fully explained (especially in the case of the villain’s motivations and the random memory stick red herring toward the end) and it doesn’t even come off as a throwback 80s action thriller, but more of a remake of The Specialist with Sung Kang standing in for Sharon Stone.
I will admit that the actress that plays Stallone’s daughter, Sarah Shahi, is easy on the eyes and the final battle between Stallone and Momoa is short, but entertaining (they fight with fire axes, to which Stallone comments, “What are we, fucking Vikings?”). Everything else is bottom of the barrel.

If these old school action stars want to stay relevant in today’s Hollywood they need to surround themselves with top tier collaborators and decently conceived projects. Schwarzenegger knows what’s up, and it shows in with his goofily entertaining The Last Stand. As far as I was concerned Bullet to the Head was rushed into production to capitalize on the popularity of The Expendables 2 and it failed miserably. If any of these guys are going to fall out of the limelight again, I predict it will be Stallone who goes first. At least Schwarzenegger was smart enough to sign on to new Terminator, Conan and Twins sequels. Stallone’s recent announcement to create a Rocky spin-off, Creed, seems like a desperate attempt to copy his friend’s business model. I just fear that it will be too little too late and once The Expendables 3 is released he will find himself attempting to mine that franchise for as long as he can because his standalone projects will be just as bad as this one.
I can best sum up this flick in one sentence, something a friend of mine said while watching it with me - “This movie is a whole lotta who gives a shit”. Truer words were never spoken.

1 out of 5

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