Worthwhile action and occasional flashes of quality cannot save Bullet to the Head from some of the worst writing in recent memory and a litany of crime movie cliches done much better elsewhere with much less.
After he is double crossed for a job that leaves his partner dead, career hitman Jimmy Bobo (Syvester Stallone) is forced to team up with Taylor Quan, a detective down from DC investigating the murder of his former partner (Sung Kang) to take down a network of corruption in New Orleans. Of course, when crime lord Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) catches wind of the pair coming after him he sends his own hit man Keegan (Jason Momoa) to kidnap Bobo’s daughter Lisa (Sarah Shahi). Of course, at this point, it’s personal.
Directed by vetran action movie director Walter Hill, Bullet to the Head feels like an 80′s action movie but unfortunately it is not a good 80′s movie. It isn’t even a good bad 80′s movie. This is perplexing given that Hill gave us 48 Hours, Red Heat, Streets of Fire and Extreme Prejudice in the 80′s and the Warriors before that. His work in the 90′s is nothing to dismiss either so it is baffling that Bullet to the Head turned out this way. To Hill’s credit, the movie looks good, has decent pacing and worthwhile action but given that he wrote all of those movies mention above as well as the story for Aliens, I feel like the script could have been reworked and improved.
I am not sure how much screenwriter Alessandro Camon took from the graphic novel the movie is based on by Alexis Nolent but even if he took it word for word from the source material, Camon should have known better. I am not convinced whichever one of them was responsible for the dialogue has ever actually heard anyone talk before because the dialgoue is absolutely terrible and just about as stiff and stilted as it possibly could be. It is clear that an attempt was made for stylistic hardboiled crime dialogue in the vein of Elmore Leonard or Quentin Tarantino but this attempt was far from successful. The flow is absolutely wrong and conversations don’t follow particuarly well with characters making conversational connections that make no sense and having inappropriate emotional reactions to mild insults or one liners. The dialogue feels like it was written by someone who has never spoken to a real person before and whose only grasp of english was gained only by watching the last 20 minutes of a CSI Miami episode. Sure, the source material is French so it is possible that it was lost in translation but again a proper screenwriter should have been able to adapt it to English without sounding like this. Further, I wouldn’t even worry about it at all given this is an action movie if so much screen time didn’t take place in a car with the two leads talking.
Aside from the way the dialogue sounds, the general point of the dialogue is a problem as well because it tries very hard to bring up moral, psychological and philosophical truths in and effort to add depth as well as to emulate the sorts of side conversations people have when stuck in a car together but the points made are obvious and ham fisted at best and wrong headed and vapid at worst. Clearly this was meant to echo scenes from much better films like Pulp Fiction or, hell, 48 Hours but it falls enormously flat and was both bored and irritated at the same time.
The performances are generally passable for what they are but they are completely hamstrung by the material they are forced to work with. Watching Christian Slater trying to make something out of the horrendous dialogue given almost burst a blood vessel in my forehead. Sung Kang is brimming with charisma in the Fast and the Furious movies and here his character is flat and lifeless…and frankly when the Fast and the Furious so completely outdoes you in terms of believable performances you have REALLY messed things up. Stallone does the best he can here as well but his character is given about two feet worth of emotional room to maneuver in so there is only so much even a great actor could have done. Jason Momoa is the only one in the cast that manages to find any real joy here and he seems to be relishing the role of evil badass. He is probably the best thing about Bullet to the Head and I really hope he gets much higher quality work elsewhere. If Stallone doesn’t include him in the next Expendables movie he may very well be insane.
As mentioned, the action is generally pretty good if you can ignore some instances of too close shaky cam. Some of the gunfights are ridiculous as characters empty entire clips into opponents rather than, say, putting a bullet in their head and the muzzle flashes and blood splatters are noticeably CG but there’s enough good action to keep fans of the genre entertained. Even this is a mixed bag though and the movie is frustrating for its flashes off quality that then devolves back in to substandard retread and cliche.
Conclusion [5.5 out of 10]
Bullet to the Head is a movie that tries hard but fails at just about everything it attempts. It is clear to see what they were going for but they missed that mark pretty severely and it is too bad. It could have been fun action nonsense and ended up only being nonsense. If you can ignore the story and the dialogue altogether and just appreciate the action then you might find something worthwhile here but otherwise it is best avoided. Even if you can just go for the action it is a good idea to check out a matinee or wait for the cheap seats. Anything else is going to leave you feeling cheated.