Friday, February 1, 2013

Bullet to the Head: Somebody stop this guy, before he "acts" again...

Bullet to the Head (2013) • View trailer
1.5 stars. Rating: R, for profanity, nudity and constant violence
By Derrick Bang

The surprise success of 2010’s The Expendables had an unpleasant side effect: It gave Sylvester Stallone the impression that he had a career to revive, and now we’re stuck with vulgar trash such as Bullet to the Head.

Real men don't settle their differences with guns; they use axes. Apparently having
decided that his film isn't violent enough, director Walter Hill tries for the gold when
professional assassin Jimmy Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) goes one-on-one with
the towering Keegan (Jason Momoa).
The other depressing surprise is the depth to which director Walter Hill’s career has sunk. The once-promising young stylist — who, back in the day, impressed us with The Warriors, The Long Riders and 48 Hrs. — has been reduced to exploitative sleaze that I’d normally expect to debut as a late-Friday-night Cinemax original.

But while Stallone and Hill bring nothing worthwhile to this dumb crime thriller, the lion’s share of blame belongs to so-called screenwriter Alessandro Camon, whose efforts here don’t even qualify as creative typing. He has adapted French writer Alexis Nolent’s three-part graphic novel series, Headshot (aka Du plomb dans la tête), with a complete absence of grace, wit and plot logic.

Nothing — and I mean absolutely nothing — in Camon’s narrative makes sense. Various low-level characters are introduced solely so Stallone’s James “Jimmy” Bonomo can blow them away. The pattern is repeated ad nauseum: Some guy is found, he blusters profanely before giving up the name of the some other guy; he takes a bullet to the head. And then on to the next one.

And I won’t even attempt to describe the plot “surprise” that occupies the blood-soaked climax, at which point Camon’s scribblings truly enter cloud cuckoo-land.

I keep reminding myself that well-paid executives at Warner Bros. apparently found merit in this swill. What were they smoking that day?

Hill signals his tawdry sensibilities with the opening scene, as some insignificant goon inhales dollops of cocaine, chases it down with a pint or so of vodka, and heads toward the naked Russian hooker waiting perkily in the shower. (It should be mentioned that only two significant female characters inhabit this story, both apparently present so they can flash their boobs.)

This wholesome scene is interrupted by Jimmy and partner Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda), who wave badges and stride into the hotel room, as their unhappy host babbles about warrants and lawyers. Ah, but Jimmy and Louis aren’t cops; they’re professional killers. One dead scumbag later, they’re on their way, Jimmy rather inexplicably having failed to kill the witnessing hooker as well.

Could this have been a mistake? Moments later, while chilling at a bar, Louis is killed by Keegan (Jason Momoa), a towering mercenary who tries — but fails — to off Jimmy as well.

Elsewhere across town, visiting detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) checks in with New Orleans cops Lebreton (Dane Rhodes) and Towne (Marcus Lyle Brown). Kwon is pursuing a lead that got his partner killed back in Washington, D.C.; Lebreton and Towne aren’t inclined to be helpful, but they don’t object when the newcomer expresses interest in this hot-off-the-griddle hotel killing.

Thanks to frequent phone chats with an amazing departmental researcher (never shown) back in D.C., who always gets results in seconds, Kwon quickly hooks up with Jimmy and proposes an uneasy alliance: They both lost partners, so how ’bout teaming up to defeat the common enemy? Jimmy makes a great show of declining — Stallone’s granite-faced scowl struggling mightily to express anything resembling a flicker of actual emotion — but of course they immediately become allies.

And start up the criminal food chain, in the manner previously described, to Kwon’s ongoing horror.

“You can’t just shoot a guy like that!” he protests, the first time (or was it the third?).

“I just did,” Jimmy replies, in what passes for banter in this numbnuts script.

The final link in said chain is Robert Nkomo Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a ruthless financier who fled some African country (!) in order to become a shady developer in New Orleans. He’s assisted by Baptiste (Christian Slater), a crooked lawyer who fancies himself an Old World aristocrat and loves to throw hedonistic parties.

Jimmy and Kwon catch up with Baptiste at the latter’s lavish masked ball, where — wouldn’t you know it — many of the women apparently forgot their costumes.

Kwon manages to take a bullet in the shoulder (no, not in the head) somewhere along the way, at which point Jimmy brings him to a low-rent tattoo parlor, where sexy needle artist Lisa (Sarah Shahi) patches up the poor boy, employing the skills she learned during her single year at medical school. Turns out Lisa is Jimmy’s daughter — goodness, what a surprise! — and of course she’s the one thing in this world that he truly cares about, blah, blah, blah.

Cue Lisa’s abduction by Keegan. Normally, you’d be able to write the rest of this silly story the way a 5-year-old connects the dots, but an unexpected — nay, deranged — impulse on Keegan’s part changes the dynamic a bit. Not for the better. Maybe that plot hiccup played well in Nolent’s graphic novel, but it sure is stupid here.

Stallone’s “performance” in this flick is a joke, the few acting chops he possessed, eons ago, obviously have abandoned him. One has to wonder if cosmetic surgery has left him with nothing but the brooding, sleepy-eyed glower that is his sole expression throughout this entire film.

Kang, probably recognized from the Fast and Furious franchise, has plenty of presence and acting talent; in a better project, he’d obviously shine. But this script makes Kwon a walking joke who repeatedly behaves like a moron; there simply isn’t any reason Jimmy wouldn’t whack this interloper and be done with him. Try as he might, Kang can’t earn any sympathy or respect here.

Momoa, the former Baywatch hunk who recently failed to re-ignite the Conan franchise, comes off a bit better as Keegan. He makes a pretty good hovering menace: the sort of secondary baddie sent off to do all the dirty work at the behest of a James Bondian megalomaniac. (Indeed, Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Morel has that cartoonish aspect.)

Shahi shows some resourceful spunk as Lisa, but it’s another thankless role; she functions mainly as a Woman In Peril. Slater simply wastes his time in, yes, yet another under-developed part.

Nobody else remains on camera long enough to worry about.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent attempt to revive his career — The Last Stand — at least had the good sense not to take itself seriously; Arnie also was smart enough to surround himself with reasonably well-drawn supporting characters and Johnny Knoxville’s comic skills. Bullet to the Head, in great contrast, is as humorless and unwaveringly tedious as Stallone’s frozen-faced mug.

Rubbish this incompetent will serve only to stoke the fires of publicity-minded politicians eager to castigate the rising levels of violence in cinema. This flick is bound to make the top of such lists ... with a bullet.

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