Theatrical Review: Bullet to the Head

James Bonomo, an aging New Orleans-based hitman and Taylor Kwon, a Washington, DC detective form a bit of an uneasy alliance after watching both of the partners killed in situations that are tied together. Taking place in New Orleans, both are now working their way up a food chain of bad guys to go after those responsible.

That’s a pretty simplified premise to Bullet to the Head the latest movie from director Walter Hill and star Sylvester Stallone who plays Bonomo (also know as Jimmy Bobo) and it’s an adaptation of the graphic novel Du plomb dans la tête from writer Alexis Nolent and artist Colin Wilson. I haven’t read the graphic novel, though I have seen parts of it and it looks quite impressive, but I can’t say if this is a faithful adaptation or not. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for director Walter Hill though, as he’s teamed the cop up with the crook before in the movie 48 Hrs. and he’s certainly no stranger to gritty action films with such movies as The Warriors, Streets of Fire and Last Man Standing to his credit.

From the initial trailer, my expectations for the film were pretty low, but I’m a fan of both Stallone and Hill and wanted to see what they’d cook up here. Watching the trailer, Stallone’s character seemed to me to be even more punchdrunk than Rocky Balboa on his worst day and that was something that I was just a little wary of at the start. Fortunately, there’s way more to Jimmy Bobo in the movie itself and I just think it’s a little unfortunate that that’s not shown in the trailer, though it’s understandable why it isn’t.

The story here is pretty straightforward and it’s nothing that you haven’t seen before, which as I’ve said in other reviews, doesn’t really bother me as long as it’s presented well. Bullet to the Head does it pretty well and I ended up enjoying this one more than I thought I would though that’s due largely to the work of two of the players in the film Sung Kang (from the Fast & Furious movies) as detective Kwon and Jason Momoa (our newest Conan) who plays Keegan the chief enforcer of our main bad guy, Morel (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

The thing that I like about Stallone here, and it’s certainly been true to his work in The Expendables films as well, is that’s he’s willing to acknowledge his age and play with that in the film. Jimmy Bobo has seen better days, but his years of experience play a huge role in his task at hand. Sung Kang has certainly done well with supporting parts in the past and it’s cool to see him stand his ground with Stallone, while playing the counterpoint of a detective who’s very much a technophile. The big surprise for me though here was Jason Momoa. I thought Momoa was terrific in Conan the Barbarian and I think he’s even better here. Momoa’s got real presence and commands the screen just about every time he’s on-screen. He’s a terrific threatening presence and I certainly look forward to seeing him in more movies down the road.

I mentioned Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje above, and while I’ve certainly liked his work in the past, here he seems a little out of place. His character, Robert Morel, carries himself on crutches through the movie and it just sort of seems to me like the part would’ve been better suited to an older actor who’s maybe a little less fit than Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Sarah Shahi plays Lisa Bonomo, Jimmy’s daughter and a possible love interest for Kwon. She’s certainly solid here though again it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Another surprise though was Christian Slater who plays Morel’s laywer, Marcus Baptiste. Slater’s only in the movie a brief time, but he certainly plays his part to the hilt and is especially entertaining during a scene when he’s being interrogated by Bobo and Kwon.

Bullet to the Head is an entertaining 80s throwback action piece that’s certainly a nice little diversion at the theatre. Sylvester Stallone can still very much do this sort of part and it’s certainly wise on his end to acknowledge his age along the way. The best part of the film though is watching up-and-comer Jason Momoa in action. This kid’s got real chops and his presence is positively magnetic. In the end, I’d certainly recommend the movie, but it’s not necessarily the sort of thing that you have to run out and see right away on the big screen, unless you’re a Stallone fan and want to continue to catch the current wave of the return of the big action stars of the past.

By Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

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