Casting Sylvester Stallone in an ‘old school' action movie directed by none other than Walter Hill probably, on paper at least, sounded like a match made in heaven. Stallone has proven he can handle himself in tough guy roles and with more dramatic roles under his belt too, he's also shown he can act. Hill, on the other hand, has helmed a few legitimate classics in his career and has proven time and again that he knows his way around cinematic violence without shortchanging character development. Unfortunately their collaboration, Bullet To The Head, turns out to be little more than superficial fluff. Entertaining enough to be sure, but a movie that winds up wasting much of its potential.
When the movie begins we meet two hitmen, Jimmy ‘Bobo' Bonomo (Stallone) and his partner Louis Blanchard (Jon SeDa), just as they're about to bust down a hotel room door to get to someone named Greeley (Holt McCallany) who is in the middle of doing some blow and about to screw a hooker. They shoot him dead but let the hooker live. From there, they hit the bar where Louis is promptly stabbed to death by a big guy with a ponytail named Keegan (Jason Momoa), who later assaults Jimmy but makes an escape before he can plug him full of lead. Jimmy's none too happy about any of this, and he's even less happy when he's approached by a cop named Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), a D.C. based detective investigating Greeley's death. He figures since that guys who paid Jimmy and Louis to take him out are the same guys who ordered the hit on them, that Jimmy might want to work together to sort all of this out. He doesn't. But he soon has a change of heart and saves Kwon from an assault in a parking garage.
With Kwon injured and no one left to trust, Jimmy takes Kwon to visit his daughter, Lisa (Sarah Shahi), a tattoo artist with one year of medical school under her belt. Stitched and more or less as good as new, Kwon makes a few calls based off of contacts that Jimmy has in the underworld and soon they start working their way up the ladder to find out who had Keegan make the kill. Their investigation leads them into a ring of corrupt cops, a snake of a lawyer named Baptiste (Christian Slater) and politicians on the take. After a bit of digging, all of this points to an African immigrant named Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) as the man at the top. Cops and hitmen don't always work together so well though, and Jimmy and Taylor are going to find that their two very different styles clash in more ways than one.
Bullet To The Head isn't terrible, but it is terribly generic. The story moves along nicely from one amusingly violent set piece to the next and the action, if slightly hyper edited, has a nice kick to it. It's bloody, it's tough, it's nasty and sometimes it's actually even shocking. The cinematography makes good use of the New Orleans settings, and we wind up with a grubby look that anchors the movie in a sweaty, humid sort of way. There's a solid score underneath all of this and the stunts are nicely done. Production values are solid and on a technical level, things shape up well.
The story, however, is ripe with one cliché after the next and we don't get a whole lot of character development here, which makes it tough to find our leads all too sympathetic. At the same time, the script fails to exploit the moral issues that should have crept in by teaming up a well-meaning honest cop with a ruthless hitman. As far as the acting goes, Stallone is good. He grumbles and wobbles his way through the movie looking tough and handling himself well. He delivers the frequent comedic lines with enough character and charisma that he works in the role. Sung Kang, however, falls very flat and the chemistry that we need these two to have in order to really propel the relationship that drives the film never quite catches fire. He lacks the charisma that Stallone seems to effortlessly eschew and the film definitely suffers for it. Momoa is solid as the heavy, delivering some solid moves in the action scenes and Shahi is fine even if she isn't given all that much to do. Christian Slater's role could have been more or less played by anyone capable of delivering sarcasm with reasonable effectiveness while Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's character is never fleshed out enough to be really memorable even if his acting is decent enough.
Ultimately this is decent enough entertainment of the superficial variety. If you do in expecting depth you'll walk away disappointed but Bullet In The Head does let Stallone do his thing and manages to offer up some cheap thrills along the way. If no the masterpiece some might have hoped for, it is a passable popcorn film.
Bullet To The Head is presented in 1.78.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer. In the disc's sole extra feature, the movie is described as ‘grungy' and that seems to be a pretty accurate description. This isn't an overly colorful film, the New Orleans in which it is set shows lots of mold and dirt and obvious urban decay and as such, the color palette utilized in the picture is considerably less than lush. Understandably the transfer on the Blu-ray replicates this and you get the impression that this is how the movie ‘should' look. So how does it shape up as a high definition presentation? Pretty well, actually, so long as you take the intended look of the movie into effect. Detail is generally quite good but it does vary from scene to scene with some looking better than others. Close ups tend to be nice and sharp, however. Black levels are pretty good but shadow detail is sometimes less than perfect. The movie does look fine here, but because of how the filmmakers wanted it to look, it doesn't quite hit the same high notes that other recent major studio releases have on the format.
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, but thankfully it's a very good one. Strong bass response kicks in right from the opening credits and continues throughout the movie. This is one of those Blu-ray's that will give your subwoofer a bit of a workout. Gun shots pack some solid punch and car engines rev with a nice, deep growl. The score is tight and lively and spread out through the soundstage rather well, while dialogue stays easily discernible despite Stallone's tendency to mumble a bit (as is his way). Ultimately this is a loud and enveloping mix, one that's wholly appropriate for the type of movie it's been assigned to. It works very well and delivers everything that you'd hope it would. Optional closed captioning is provided in English with optional subtitles provided in Spanish.
Aside from a trailer for Gangster Squad that plays before the static menu screen loads, the only extra on the disc is a nine minute featurette entitled Bullet To The Head: Mayhem Inc.. This is way too short and clip heavy and it's also fairly promotional in nature but it does feature interviews with all of the principal cast members and from director Hill, so for that reason it's worth watching. We get some interesting behind the scenes clips of Stallone and Momoa prepping for their axe fight and a few shots of some of the stunts being coordinated. You get the impression that everyone involved here had a really good time working on the movie and that they weren't really going for depth or intelligence with the project. Really though, there isn't a whole lot here. Worth noting is that this release comes packaged in a slipcover with a DVD version and an Ultraviolet copy as well.
With the teaming of Stallone and Hill, Bullet To The Head really should have been a great movie and the sad fact of the matter is that it's not. With that said, if you're down for some mindlessly violent entertainment, you could do a lot worse. The fight scenes are solid, the action is tense and the pacing is good. It's just a shame that the relationships that form the core of the movie fall flat and that the picture is riddled with clichés. Warner's Blu-ray gets a reference quality sound mix, a decent transfer, and one mediocre extra that doesn't really add a whole lot to the package. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.