MANILA, Philippines - "Bullet to the Head" starts with a classic set-up: two hitmen (Sylvester Stallone and Jon Seda) take out their mark and they head to a bar to await payment. While there, another dude comes to take them out, and it’s all too late by the time Sly’s Jimmy Bobo realizes that they’ve been double-crossed. Now he has to find the dudes who put out the hit and avenge his partner.
Then it throws in another convention, making this a buddy cop flick. As Bobo goes looking for the bad dudes he needs to take out, he finds that he has to work with a cop, played by Sung Kang, who has access to information and wants to find out who called the hit just as much as Bobo does.
So throughout this flick, we’ve got the large conflict, which is the conspiracy behind the first murder, and most of the killing thereafter. And then we have the supposed tension created as a cop and a hit man team up against a common enemy. Of course we’ve got a hit man who has his own code. On the other end, we have the clean cop who wants to do things by the book.
Director Walter Hill is no stranger to buddy cop or action movies. He directed one of the greatest buddy cop flicks of all time, "48 Hours." He is also behind one of the most loved cult action movies of all time, "The Warriors." His skills as a director are on display here.
The action is ferocious, sudden, and shocking and violent. He largely eschews shootouts in favor of fisticuffs and this gives the movie a gritty, down, and dirty feel. We get a sense that we’re working with a limited budget here, but that only means that it has to be a little more ingenious.
Working also with the aging Stallone means that you don’t have a leading man who can move as fast as most. This is most apparent in the final climatic axe battle (yes, I said AXE BATTLE, and for that alone this movie deserves to be watched) between Sly and the Big Bad played by Jason Momoa.
Momoa is quick and imposing and it should be an easy fight. But we know Sly’s the hero, and through some good editing and choreography we get a very exciting standoff.
The thing is, and I can’t really believe I’m saying this, is that Stallone does such a strong job of acting that Sung Kang can’t keep up. It’s this that destroys the buddy cop aspects of the film, because the chemistry is non-existent and the relationship between them is every uneven.
In other buddy cop movies there was always some kind of leverage or other for each partner. Also — and more importantly — one partner was usually a good funny man, while the other played straight man. Here, neither guy is particularly good at cracking wise, and so we’ve got two generally serious straight men trying to play off of each other (Yes, I am aware of the possible gender-based funnies that prior statement might suggest; but, hey, what can I do? That’s the terminology of comedy.).
Sly’s Bobo is intense and angry and generally a badass. Kang’s Kwon is sort of like the puny, annoying younger brother whom you have to take along because he knows where the place is; but if you had a choice, you would have left him behind.
I could not help but feel that way for a large part of the film. I kept imagining this as a better film if it had jettisoned the whole buddy cop schtick and gone with a noir-like revenge plot.
As it stands though, it’s an interesting study in how a relatively weak script can be elevated by a great director. The jokes here don’t zing, we get a few too many stereotypes and cliches (Jimmy Bobo’s got a daughter, and once you introduce an element like that, then you know only too well what is going to happen to her through the course of the movie), and we’re generally watching a thing we’ve seen too many times before — and often done better.
Even given all of that, I think Hill puts together a largely entertaining and fun action movie. Sure, the story sags and the exposition and supposed big plot behind it all are pretty flimsy. It’s all stuff we’ve heard before, all things we can predict. And yet, much of this film is brightened by the great action sequences.
So sure, you’ll probably forget most of the elements of the story as they melt and fade into other action movies. But some of these action sequences will, at the very least, make you say, “Dude, that was awesome.”
Oh, and again, AXE FIGHT. - Rappler.com
("Bullet to the Head" is showing in Philippine cinemas)
Carljoe Javier doesn't know why people think he's a snarky film critic who spends his time dashing the hopes of filmgoers. He thinks he's not all that bad, really. He teaches at the State U, writes books, and studies film, comics, and video games... Then again, those people could be right.