There’s an ominous feeling when you watch Bullet to the Head, based off a French graphic novel called “Du Plomb Dans La Tete” by Alexis Nolent (which roughly translates to the film’s title, apparently). It’s one of those films you could’ve sworn you’ve seen before but since it’s a new release you can’t quite pick out where exactly this feeling of déjà vu is coming from. And then it hits you.
Bullet to the Head is every ‘80s action buddy comedy meshed into one painfully unfunny, neutered action film that somehow manages to waste a fairly talented cast.
It’s a simple plot. Jimmy (Sylvester Stallone) is a hitman with a long record and a code of conduct. When he completes a job with his partner (Jon Seda) they plan to walk away. Why? Because Jimmy let a hooker live when anyone else would’ve killed her as well as the target. His name should be “Cannon Fodder” though because he’s promptly killed by an axe mercenary (Jason Momoa) that also nearly kills Jimmy. He’s working for a crooked attorney (Christian Slater) and a crippled former African dictator (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), of course, who have designs on making a fortune the crooked way in New Orleans. Throw in the one cop that isn’t crooked (Sung Kang) looking to bring down the same people that tried to murder Jimmy, and Jimmy’s daughter (Sarah Shahi) as a convenient plot device, and you have all the requisites of a buddy action comedy.
The problem is that it’s not funny, especially considering it’s trying to openly copy 48 Hours in all the wrong ways.
48 Hours worked because Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte had remarkable chemistry, of course, but also because they pushed the limits of what the white Nolte would say to the African-American Murphy. You couldn’t make that film today, of course, because of the sheer volume of racist things that Nolte got away with then. Stallone seems to be trying to ape Nolte in that film by using as many generic Asian slurs and stereotype jokes to Kang as he can. Unfortunately there’s no sting to them because there isn’t the edge to it that Nolte had back then. Stallone is just making jokes that would find their way into any schlocky stand-up comedian’s act. It’s a pale imitation, not all that surprising considering Walter Hill directed that film as well, and that’s what the film feels like as a whole: a pale imitation of better films.
There’s nothing in this film we haven’t seen before and seen done better. The film’s lone bright spot is Jason Momoa, who redeems the Baywatch Conan he gave to the masses several years ago with a heavy who’s full of menace. He doesn’t have a lot of depth, of course, but he’s sufficiently evil enough to make it somewhat interesting. His sheer physical size makes him a fun matchup against a Stallone who came into the film in remarkable physical shape as always.
Bullet to the Head had fairly substantial problems in post-production and it shows. This is a film that feels like it’s half way complete, like a work print that still needed a couple months of judicious editing before it was ready to be released.
Director: Walter Hill
Writer: Walter Hill and Alessandro Camon based on “Du Plomb Dans La Tete” by Alexis Nolent
Notable Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Jason Momoa, Christian Slater, Sarah Shahi, Jon Seda, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje