This year has already seen the return of one 1980s action star to big screens, with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Last Stand (2012) hitting cinemas last week. Fellow ‘Expendable’ Bruce Willis will be playing an old man coming out of retirement to fight bad guys no fewer than three times this year, but before that comes Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stallone’s 2012 buddy-cop film Bullet to the Head, an adaptation of the French graphic novel by Matz. Directed by Walter Hill – no stranger to the sub-genre, having brought 48 Hours and Red Heat to life – his latest effort has just enough panache about it to remain watchable despite some obvious flaws.
After his partner Louis (Jon Seda) is ruthlessly killed soon after a job, unapologetic hitman Jimmy Bobo (Stallone) realises he’s being set up by the same people who brought him in. Teaming up with out-of-town detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), the unlikely allies hunt down those responsible. Although the unambitious plot also includes corrupt cops and lawyers, little to no concentration is required from the viewer as Stallone’s gun for hire goes about his revenge, showing off his still impressive physique in the process.
Bullet to the Head’s hand-to-hand skirmishes may suffer from poor editing, but the short and brutal nature of the numerous gunfights make a nice change from the drawn-out, bullet-wasting sequences that are so often seen in the action genre. However, no amount of action can disguise the laughable narrative, which manages to reach absurd levels in the film’s final act. Central protagonist Bobo is not too dissimilar from other characters Stallone has played in his career, and the ageing icon looks comfortable in the role. Whilst in the recent Expendables outings he was surrounded by other bona fide action stars in Bruce Willis and Schwarzenegger however, here his co-star lacks the necessary charisma.
Thomas Jane (of 2004’s The Punisher fame) was initially eyed for the role of a New York City cop that eventually went to Kang; although the actor is outshone by Stallone throughout, their characters’ banter over differing methods and musical tastes provides some fun moments. Elsewhere, Mamoa shows potential but he’s far from the finished article, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje gets to deliver the film’s best line as behind-the-scenes villain Morel.
Just as with The Expendables franchise, the nostalgia factor means that Bullet to the Head will appeal to certain audiences, and those hoping for silly fun in the vein of throwaway one-liners and axe-fight showdowns will not be disappointed. For others, Stallone’s latest is best viewed on smaller screens, if at all.