I lost count of the number of noggins that were perforated by hot lead in “Bullet to the Head,” but it was more than a dozen. Henchman apparently is a particularly dangerous job description, at least in this movie, though they’re not the only ones who wind up with smoking holes in their foreheads.
No doubt there will be those who decry this above-average action film for its nearly constant chatter of gunfire and its frequent bursts of red mist, signifying a gunshot striking human flesh. And yet this film, by director Walter Hill, a particularly gritty action veteran, holds your attention without insulting your intelligence – too badly.
Written by Alessandro Camon and based on a French graphic novel, “Bullet to the Head” teams a chiseled Sylvester Stallone (whose face also looks as though it were carved out of stone and is just as immobile) with Sung Kang, who seems like a petulant kid by comparison to the growling Sly. Stallone is Jimmy Bobo, a New Orleans hitman, first seen with his partner Louis (Jon Seda), taking out some guy in a hotel room. They head for a bar to have a post-snuff drink – but only Bobo walks out alive. His partner is vigorously knifed by a guy named Keegan (Jason Momoa, who played Khal Drogo on “Game of Thrones”), who flees after botching a similar attempt on Bobo.
Enter Washington, D.C., police detective Taylor Kwon (Kang), in town because his ex-partner was the target of the Stallone hit. In short order, using his smart phone (!), Kwon figures out that the same people who ordered the death of his former partner also killed Bobo’s pal. So they make an uneasy truce to team up – after Kwon is the victim of an attempted hit himself, by New Orleans cops, no less.
The best part of the film is that prickly give-and-take between Stallone and Kang, though Stallone gets all the best lines and has the deadpan to make them land. The plot itself isn’t much: There are no twists, no surprises, just a juggernaut of violence in which each side tracks and corners the other, with many corpses with head wounds left in their wake.
There’s nothing sentimental or even heroic about these characters. Bobo is a killer with no conscience, but with a soul – and a daughter (Sarah Shahi), inserted into the plot mostly to serve as hostage bait. The gun violence is rampant – almost videogame-like – but it’s a little like clearing the deadwood to focus on the main characters in each scene.
Is that irresponsible? Probably, though this film doesn’t take prurient pleasure in the shootings. They’re simply a matter-of-fact feature of this particular demimonde, one in which everyone is packing heat and unafraid to use it indiscriminately.
This review continues on my website.