MOVIE REVIEW: BULLET TO THE HEAD (2013)
By Michael Arruda
This movie earns its title and then some.
BULLET TO THE HEAD is one brutal action flick, featuring more bullets to the head than a Corleone family reunion.
James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) is a hit man who hates cops, mostly because he’s spent his life in and out of jail and doesn’t trust anybody, cops included, as he’s seen his share of crooked law enforcement officers in his day. After he and his partner finish a hit, they are double-crossed by the folks who hired them, who send in a hit man of their own, an ex-military beast of a man named Keegan (Jason Momoa, who was CONAN THE BARBARIAN in the 2011 reboot of that franchise), who promptly slays Bonomo’s partner—- displaying some vicious knife work— but fails to complete the job, as Bonomo turns the tables on him, sending him fleeing from the scene with his tail between his legs, at least for the time being.
It turns out that the man Bonomo and his partner killed was an ex-cop from D.C. The man’s former partner Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) arrives in New Orleans to investigate his death, and his investigation leads him to Bonomo. Kwon wants more than just Bonomo. He wants the men who hired him, because he wants to get to bottom of the whole sordid affair by taking down the men at the top. Bonomo wants these men too, because they killed his partner, tried to kill him, and never paid him his money.
Faster than you can say buddy cop movie, Bonomo and Kwon find themselves working together to find the men behind the murders. The trail leads them to a slick lawyer, Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater), who throws huge parties where beautiful women prance around in their birthday suits, and to the man he works for, Robert Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) a baddie who went to the Lex Luthor school of villainy, as he’s obsessed with purchasing real estate.
Morel of course hires Keegan to kill both Bonomo and Taylor, and when that plan fails, he sends Keegan to kidnap Bonomo’s daughter, Lisa (Sarah Shahi), for leverage, since Bonomo and Taylor have in their possession a flash drive containing incriminating information against Morel.
As you might expect, Bonomo doesn’t like having his daughter kidnapped, setting the stage for a confrontation between Bonomo and Keegan that is worth the price of admission.
I really liked BULLET TO THE HEAD. In the triumvirate of recent action movies I’ve seen the past month— Schwarzenegger in THE LAST STAND (2013), Jason Statham in PARKER (2013), and now Stallone in BULLET TO THE HEAD, I liked BULLET TO THE HEAD the best, as it’s the most complete movie of the three. That being said, I liked Statham’s take on the character of Parker a lot, with his unique set of rules and sense of honor, and so I liked PARKER just about as much as BULLET, but in terms of sheer brutality, BULLET TO THE HEAD takes the prize.
Sylvester Stallone, at his age, 66, still makes for one convincing bad ass tough guy, and when he looks at Jason Momoa’s Keegan at the end of the film and says “I’m going to kill you,” the audience believes him. Rarely has Stallone played a colder killer than Bonomo.
The deaths are up close and personal. Director Walter Hill, a veteran of these buddy cop movies, going back to the 1980s with films like 48 HOURS (1982), with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, brings the camera in close for some jarring execution style murders that are actually quite wince-inducing. I found myself looking away a few times, and the two gentlemen in the seats in front of me, not tiny men by any means, jumped on a couple of occasions.
There are also some memorable fight scenes in this one, as again, Stallone still looks like he can really bring it. The concluding bout between Stallone and Jason Momoa is every bit as good as the clash between Stallone and Van Damme at the end of THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012). One of my gripes about the concluding hand to hand fight in THE LAST STAND was that Schwarzenegger’s opponent looked so wimpy. Not so here. Momoa looks like he could handle both Stallone and Schwarzenegger at the same time.
Speaking of Momoa, he’s quite impressive as the unstoppable killer Keegan, and he delivers one of the better performances in the movie. Often these big tough guy villain roles come off like robots, but Momoa’s Keegan is infused with personality.
Sarah Shahi is also very good as Bonomo’s daughter, Lisa. She’s a tattoo artist who moonlights as a doctor, helping her dad patch up his buddies from their various bullet and knife wounds.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Robert Morel, the guy in a suit pulling all the strings, played a similar bad guy role in KILLER ELITE (2011), making life miserable in that movie for Jason Statham and Robert De Niro. Akinnuoye-Agbaje, you might remember, played Mr. Eko on the TV show LOST.
Christian Slater is sufficiently slimy as shady lawyer Marcus Baptiste, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen Slater do before.
Perhaps the only weak link in the movie is Sung Kang as Stallone’s cop buddy Taylor Kwon. Kang’s acting is decent enough, but the clean-cut pretty boy Kwon stands out like a bright cheery light in an otherwise dark gritty movie. I would have preferred a Mark Wahlberg-type in the role.
The screenplay by Alessandro Camon is a winner. While the plot is nothing more than your standard buddy action flick, an excuse, really, to allow Sylvester Stallone to make tough guy wisecracks and beat up on the bad guys—and because Stallone is so good at this, it lifts the material above what it otherwise might have been without him— there were still some nuances to the story which I really enjoyed.
I liked the character development of the hit man Keegan. As we learn more about what makes him tick, we find out that he’s driven by a sense of honor more than the almighty dollar, and when his boss Morel shows no loyalty to the men he employs—he’s only interested in money— this doesn’t sit well with Keegan. Keegan actually cares about the men who work alongside him. Of course, he also loves killing.
The story also does a good job convincing us that Stallone and Kang want to work together. At first, I thought, no way, Stallone’s Bonomo hates cops, so there’s no way I’m going to believe he’d want to work with Kang’s Kwon, but screenwriter Camon succeeds in pulling this off. In one instance, for example, old school Bonomo is clearly impressed with the wealth of information Kwon has at his fingertips on his smart phone and realizes the advantages of working with the officer outweigh his personal disdain for his profession.
BULLET TO THE HEAD is a completely satisfying action thriller. It’s brutal, dark, and intense from its opening execution scene to its closing clash featuring Stallone and Momoa going at each other with axes.
Sure, its buddy action movie plot offers little we haven’t seen before, but what it lacks in originality it makes up for in ferocity.
I give it three knives.
© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda
Michael Arruda gives BULLET TO THE HEAD ~three knives.