Bullet to the Head (Warner Bros. Pictures, R)

bullettothehead 75Sylvester Stallone’s character teams up with a cop, played by Sung Kang, and they work together for some reason to accomplish something. I don’t really know.


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There are times I love writing movie reviews. If a movie is great, I love being able to sing its praises; if a movie is terrible, I get a kind of cathartic joy out of ranting about it. Then there are movies I hate writing about. Bullet to the Head is one of those movies. I know that literally every person reading this right now has already decided whether or not to see this movie, and I don’t feel strongly enough about it to try to change anyone’s mind.

If you’ve followed my reviews (and I’m sure all of you have), you know that I have a very high tolerance for generic action movies. In the world of generic action movies, one can do a lot worse than director Walter Hill. Though best known for The Warriors and 48 Hours, he has made quite a few solid genre pieces over the course of his career. Bullet to the Head feels like familiar material for him, especially since, at its heart, this is a buddy movie. Sylvester Stallone plays a lifelong criminal whose partner is killed. He teams up with a cop, played by Sung Kang, and they work together for some reason to accomplish something. I don’t really know.

This partnership makes no sense. It’s silly that the cop would come to the criminal for help, and it’s absurd that the criminal would agree to work with him. But that’s fine, because their relationship is the most enjoyable part of the movie. One thing people don’t really talk about in 48 Hours is that Nick Nolte’s character is legitimately racist. You could never get away with that dynamic between a white guy and a black guy today, but Sung Kang is Korean, and for some reason America is much more OK with laughing at racism toward Asians. I’m not saying Sly throws out anything all that harsh, but the slight whiff of political incorrectness is kind of welcome here. There is also plenty of young-vs.-old humor about how the young guy uses technology and the old guy does things the old-fashioned way. Do you think perhaps they will each end up taking a little bit of something from each other and end up in a relationship of mutual respect? I don’t want to spoil anything, so I guess you’ll just have to find out for yourself.

As you can probably tell, there is nothing in Bullet to the Head which we have not seen hundreds of times before. The question is, how well do they do the things we’ve seen hundreds of times before? I’d say, pretty well. I like the fight scenes. They feel appropriately brutal, and I believe that Stallone can do everything his character does. But the real stars of this film are the sound designers, who make every punch, thud, and gunshot sound like explosions. 

It’s all very straightforward. Walter Hill makes macho movies about manly men. I know that I should look down on this childish view of masculinity, but movies are not real life, and when Jason Momoa from Game of Thrones throws his gun aside so that he and Stallone can have an old-fashioned axe fight for their final showdown, I am completely on board.

I know what you’re really thinking. You’re thinking about Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. They are the kings of shitty ’80s action movies, and they both have new movies out this year. So how does Bullet to the Head compare with The Last Stand? Stallone doesn’t have the same natural charisma as Schwarzenegger, but he is a better actor. He certainly is more believable as an aged action hero, but to be fair, he has had several years of getting back in the swing of things while Arnold played the Governor of California. 

As for the movies, Bullet to the Head is much more consistent. The first two thirds of The Last Stand are pretty weak, and Bullet to the Head kept me entertained throughout. However, the final act of The Last Stand is really good, and it feels more fresh and exciting than anything in Bullet to the Head. Neither film will work for people who aren’t already in their target demographic, and neither one will really disappoint those who are in said demographic. So really, it just depends on if you are the kind of person who likes this sort of thing—and like I said, you know who you are. | Sean Lass

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