Movie review: ‘Bullet to the Head’ – fun title, fun movie

Ed Symkus

The last film to be so perfectly titled, to give viewers exactly what they thought they were going to get plotwise, was “Snakes on a Plane,” a bad movie that had only a good title going for it. That’s not the case with this mean, nasty, hardboiled movie that marks the return of Walter Hill (“Hard Times,” “Streets of Fire”) after more than a decade away from feature directing.

Based on the graphic novel of the same name, it’s about an aging, old-school hitman who teams up with a young, hip cop in order to take down a bad guy’s operation in New Orleans. It’s a great title, but it’s slightly inaccurate, as there are many bullets to many heads before the end credits. The first of them comes immediately after the opening credits, which are prefaced by plenty of drugs and booze and nudity and cursing.

The odd part about all of this is that the movie, despite everything already mentioned, is so much fun. That’s due to a sharp script and a game performance by Sylvester Stallone as Jimmy Bobo, a freelance hitman with rules and scruples and never a second thought about putting a bullet you-know-where. He’s a big lug, with a world-weary look, who won’t kill women or children, and trusts no one. When he, against his will, gets hooked up with Detective Kwon (Sung Kang, the Korean actor from the “Fast & Furious” series), the stage is set for one of those uneasy partner relationships that we’ve seen so many times before. But the barbs flying back and forth in this one, are fresh and funny, and feel real. Some people are going to wince at a few racial slurs, but they fit right in with Bobo’s misguided attempts at humor and are nicely countered by Kwan’s incredulous “what-did-you-just-say?” facial reactions.

The film begins in a car and ends in a different car, and provides a ride that’s entrenched in ideas right out of the film noir genre. It even kicks off with a noir staple: a voice-over telling us about what’s to come. “Here’s the story. This is the way it went down,” intones Stallone in his gruffest imitation of his own voice. Things get and remain big and loud from that point on, with an array of characters including crooked politicians, bad cops, a tattoo artist with a heart of gold (and a special relationship to Jimmy Bobo), and Keegan, a killer with a brutal, ruthless streak and a big smile (Jason Momoa, who recently starred in the remake of “Conan the Barbarian”). He’s reminiscent of the square-jawed actor Brian Thompson, who played the killer going after Stallone in the 1986 film “Cobra,” but Momoa has a lot more charisma and makes for a much tougher adversary.

Stallone, too, is far better in this film than his pal Arnold Schwarzenegger was in his recent “The Last Stand.” Come to think of it, “Bullet to the Head” is a far better film. Kudos to Walter Hill, who hasn’t lost a beat as a director. In fact, this film would have fit right in with his terrific ’70s and ’80s films. It just wouldn’t have been so violent back then.

Ed Symkus covers movies for GateHouse Media.


Written by Alessandro Camon; directed by Walter Hill

With Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Jason Momoa

Rated R