While no one expects a film titled “Bullet to the Head” to be a long-lost sequel to “Brief Encounter,” fans of action-flick biggies Walter Hill and Sylvester Stallone might figure the debut collaboration by the director and actor to offer personality and verve.
Yet the beef-and-blam drama is a cliched, lackluster attempt to re-create the spirit of former glory.
While the revenge and buddy adventure seemingly was devised to recall the action cinema of the 1970s and ’80s — when Hill made “Hard Times” and “48 Hours” and Stallone attained action-star icon status — it demonstrates that nostalgia doesn’t equal dramatic urgency, and that some aspects of decades-past entertainment should remain shelved.
Based on a French graphic novel by Matz and adapted by Alessandro Camon (“The Messenger”), the New Orleans-set drama stars Stallone as seasoned hit man Jimmy Bobo.
After his partner, Louis (Jon Seda), gets whacked following a job performed on an ex-cop, Jimmy teams up with Washington, D.C., cop Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang).
Taylor thinks his own partner’s death is linked to Louis’ death; both want to find the guys who killed their respective partners and take them down.
The hands-on killer is a vicious mercenary (Jason Momoa) linked to a corrupt lawyer (Christian Slater) and a ruthless land developer (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). That’s about it.
Chases, shootouts, stabbings and explosions occur as Jimmy, supplying weapons and brawn, and Taylor, accessing data on his cellphone, clash and collaborate.
From the lawman-outlaw pairing to a woman in danger (involving Jimmy’s tattoo-artist daughter), stock ingredients abound, and there’s no character development to keep the movie from sinking.
With occasional exception — a climactic ax fight, a snappy comeback or two — the movie lacks the hard-edged physicality, dramatic tension and buddy zest of Hill’s earlier films. The plot is thin even by mindless-action-flick standards. The villains are tepid.
Following Arnold Schwarzenegger into the old-style spotlight, Stallone still possesses an action-star presence, but he’s delivering a persona — growling, scowling, quipping, slicing apple with switchblade — rather than a full-fledged character.
Mismatched actors don’t help. Kang is so overpowered by Stallone, the buddy interactions are mild and lopsided. Jimmy’s live-by-the-gun ethic receives no serious challenge.
A lame attempt at humor via ethnic jokes referencing Taylor’s Korean heritage proves embarrassing.
The editing, too, is choppy, but the tight 92-minute running time will yield few complaints.
Bullet to the Head ★½
- Starring Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Christian Slater, Jason Momoa
- Written by Alessandro Camon
- Directed by Walter Hill
- Rated R
- Running time 1 hour, 32 minutes