Bullet to the Head ✮✮✮
by Glenn Lovell
Sly Stallone is back with a vengeance. As James Bonomo, alias Jimmy Bobo, New Orleans hitman, he scores his most efficient adrenalin rush since “First Blood,” the first of the Rambo movies. His Bobo, a munitions expert with a telephone-directory rap sheet, is a walking slab of granite, with protruding lower lip and the growl of a cracked muffler.
Bobo is the hard-ass anti-hero of the aptly titled “Bullet to the Head,” directed by resurrected action ace Walter Hill from a French graphic novel. We open with Bobo shooting a police captain in the head, pointblank. Splat! Ready to write the guy off as a garden-variety psycho? Don’t.
“Here’s the story,” he begins in voiceover. “This is the way it went down.”
The flashback to come combines “Eastern Promises” violence, “Eyes Wide Shut” eroticism, and the buddy banter of “48 HRS.” The latter shouldn’t surprise: Hill directed “48 HRS” with Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. He’s a past master of macho posturing. For his latest ‒ as much a comeback for Hill as Stallone ‒ he pairs Bobo with a D.C. Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang of the “Fast & Furious” franchise). Kwon is Korean-American, but that doesn’t stop Bobo from pummeling him with Confucius and fortune cookie cracks.
“We’ll take him out,” says Bobo about the guy who hired him for the hit.
“You mean, take him in,” corrects Kwon.
“Yeah,” Bobo grunts.
“Bullet to the Head” opens a little like “Pulp Fiction.” Bobo and partner Louis (Jon Seda) have been paid to take out a dirty cop. They complete the job and go to a bar for payment. It’s a setup with the hitmen next on the hit list. Bobo isn’t amused. He aims to exact payback by tracing Louis’s killer to the Big Boss, who turns out to be a Nigerian gangster named Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) whose minions include a paramilitary killer (the formidable Jason Mamoa) and a cowardly, weasel-like lawyer (a too-snarky-to-live Christian Slater ).
Kwon turns up to investigate the D.C. connection and, after taking a slug and being saved by Bobo, reluctantly agrees to throw in with the churlish thug, at least until the case is solved … and then, who knows. Bobo’s daughter (Sarah Shahi) also comes in handy: she’s a tattoo artist who doubles as an ER doctor.
“Bullet” is Hill’s first feature as director in over six years. (He’s been toiling in the TV vineyard.) It’s good to have him back in rare form. His latest ricochets from one ultra-violent set piece to another, from Turkish bath rub-out to boathouse ambush to power-plant mano a mano (with axes, no less). And the punches for a change feel real. Indeed, I haven’t flinched this much since Hill’s “Hard Times,” starring Charles Bronson as a New Orleans bare-knuckle boxer.
Of course it helps to have someone as formidable as Stallone in your corner. His assassin takes no prisoners; he’s an unapologetic, stone cold killer who, on more than one occasion, deadpans “I’ll handle it.” When his daughter’s in jeopardy, he warns her abductor, “Touch her and I’ll kill you with a f***ing rock!” Coming from Stallone, not even Goliath would take that as an idle threat.
BULLET TO THE HEAD ✮✮✮ With Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi, Jason Mamoa, Christian Slater. Director Walter Hill; scripted by Alessandro Camon from Alexis Nolent’s graphic novel. 91 min. Rated R (for profanity, nudity, extreme violence)