Monday, February 4, 2013

Film Review: Walter Hill's Bullet to the Head

The two big stalwarts of 1980's action movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, both have movies currently residing in this nation's multiplexes.  Schwarzenegger's The Last Stand, is a comeback for the one time California Governator, while Stallone's Bullet to the Head is another in a seemingly never-ending onslaught of Stallone action vehicles.   Schwarzenegger's film, directed by Korean L'enfant terrible, Kim Jee-woon, is a semi-deconstruction of the action genre, with Arnold toying with his own image.  Stallone's film, directed by Walter Hill, a man seemingly well past his prime, is a straight-forward actioner, that seems to think it is still circa 1987.  For the most part, Schwarzenegger's film succeeds in what it is attempting to do.  For the most part, so does Stallone's.  Unfortunately, Scwarzenegger's film is attempting to be a post-modern genre satire, while Stallone's is merely trying to be the same ole same ole, which I suppose makes Schwarzenegger the rejuvenated winner here, and Stallone, the tired old loser.

Full of stereotypes and clich├ęs that went out of fashion twenty-some years ago, Director Hill, a filmmaker that has been out of fashion for even longer, and star Stallone hand us the runnest of mill action flicks.  A take-off on Hill's last good film, 1982's 48 Hours (yes, the director had a run of fun films back in the late seventies and early eighties), Stallone plays Jimmy Bobo, an aging hit man, opposite Fast and Furious alum, Sung Kang, as Taylor Kwan, a do-gooder cop, who have teamed up to track down a Big Easy kingpin.  Full of typical jokes - Kang's cop calling Stallone's hit man old, and Stallone digging at Kang with a slew of light weight racist jabs - the film progresses along without ever becoming the cheeky monkey it so desperately needs to succeed.  If one were to put away Kwan's omnipresent smart phone (a running gag, aimed at Stallone being old), this film could fit in at pretty much any moment in 1980's cinema - and unlike the aforementioned Schwarzenegger vehicle, The Last Stand, this is not a badge of honour for its nostalgic homage, but rather a scar of dishonour for showing us nothing new, nothing fresh, nothing even interesting.

Sadly, we really get nothing here.  Even in Stallone's Expendables films, we get some laughs and a nice fight or two.  Here, we are left wanting, wanting, and wanting some more.  Even the climactic fight between the scarily buff 66 year old Stallone (let's just say that if he were a baseball player, he would be more akin to A-Rod than Derek Jeter) and killer stud Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, the new Conan), we are given the unorthodox axe battle - complete with the one truly funny line in the whole damn film, and that is given away in the trailer - but even so, it is still quite run of the ole mill.  I guess what I am trying to get across here, is that I just did not dig this film.  Too straightforward, and not enough fun.  Whereas, The Last Stand poked fun at itself, Bullet to the Head takes itself way too seriously to really be any fun whatsoever. Sad really, since Stallone has done good work in the past - just watch Cop Land to see that.  And even sadder yet, since Hill has done some damn good work himself as a writer/director - The Long Riders, The Warriors, the often underappreciated films like The Driver, Southern Comfort and Streets of Fire - but all a long time ago.  In the end, it's just sad, and that is all.


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