MRR Review: "Bullet to the Head"

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Sylvester Stallone plays a New Orleans hitman who teams up with a young Washington DC detective (Sung Kang) in a high-stakes investigation that leads from dingy back alleys all the way to the power corridors of New Orleans. The unlikely duo, brought together by two vicious murders, take on all who stand in their way, willing to sacrifice everything to exact revenge. Directed by Walter Hill, the crime actioner also stars Christian Slater and Jason Momoa.
3.5

MRR Review: "Bullet to the Head"

-- Rating: R (language, bloody images, strong violence, brief drug use, some nudity)
Length: 92 minutes
Release Date: February 1, 2013
Directed by: Walter Hill
Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller

Sylvester Stallone has made a career out of playing heroes like Rocky Balboa or even antiheroes like John Rambo, who does bad things for the right reasons. In "Bullet to the Head," he steps back from those iconic roles to play scumbag assassin James Bonomo, who does bad things for all the wrong reasons. His dastardly deeds eventually catch up with him, putting his estranged daughter Lisa (Sarah Shahi) in danger. This forces him to make some unusual and occasionally hilarious decisions as he fights to save himself and his daughter.

Bonomo and his partner Louis (Jon Seda) are slumming around New Orleans waiting for their next job when they find out that the corrupt ex-cop they just took down had incriminating information about criminal mastermind Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). This information could take down Morel's entire enterprise, which is why he hurriedly dispatches head goon Keegan (Jason Momoa) to get rid of Bonomo and Louis. The two get wind of Keegan's mission and start preparing for the worst. What they don't anticipate is Lisa finding herself in Keegan's crosshairs, which ignites the paternal instinct in Bonomo despite that fact that he hasn't talked to his daughter in years.

While all of this is happening, a cop from Washington named Kwon (Sung Kang) comes to the Big Easy in search of Morel for crimes he committed elsewhere. When he gets wind of what is going down, he reluctantly teams with Bonomo, knowing that doing so will lead him directly to Morel. It is a risky decision that will either make or break Kwon's career, but he does it anyway, reminding Bonomo that he is going to arrest him when all is said and done. As they try to escape multiple attempts on their lives, the unlikely new team has several near-death experiences, including one particularly crowd-pleasing fight scene involving ancient battle axes. It's fun to watch as the two men plow their way through a multitude of macho settings that allow them to flex their muscles and show off some pretty impressive fighting skills. Once the dust has settled, Kwon must decide whether he is going to keep his promise to arrest Bonomo or let him go-assuming Bonomo doesn't escape his clutches before Kwon has the chance to cuff him.

Louisiana has recently been dangling some big tax incentives at the film industry, hoping that filmmakers will take the bait and bring some much-needed jobs to the state. Dozens of movies are now being made there, though many try to hide the fact that they are in Louisiana, using the state as a substitute for other places. In "Bullet to the Head," the story is actually set in New Orleans and unabashedly shows both the beautiful, historic side of the city and its seedier underbelly. In fact, the city almost becomes a character in the film, which is part of what makes "Bullet to the Head" so much fun to watch.

Stallone is in fine action hero form as Bonomo, proving that age really is just a number. He is now in his mid-60s, but he has the vitality of someone half his age. He keeps up with the younger actors in the film, matching them blow-for-blow and barely losing a step from his 1980s heyday. Director Walter Hill is no stranger to working with '80s action heroes, having directed "Red Heat" with Arnold Schwarzenegger and "Last Man Standing" with Bruce Willis. Based on that experience, he knew exactly how to make the most of Stallone's ability and carries out the task superbly. He also knows exactly how to frame an action scene, which helps show the desperation that the characters feel as they fight in life-or-death battles that are as fun to watch as they are unnerving.

The film is based on a French graphic novel that was adapted by screenwriter Alessandro Camon. Translating novels from one language and culture to another is not an easy task, but Camon manages to do it well. He has chosen the most important and exciting points from the source material and put it into an American setting, where it works beautifully. All of the actors are menacing and throw out enough one-liners to give the film a little bit of levity that helps balance the intensity of the action sequences. The result is a popcorn action flick that is sure to please moviegoers looking for a fun way to escape reality for an hour and a half.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars