(Walter Hill, 2012)
Bullet To The Head may well be Walter Hill's worst film*. That means it's still better than much modern mainstream American cinema, for Hill is an old master, and even when given a clumsy, derivative script like this, he can still make the material sing...to a certain extent.
That extent is almost entirely visual. His lovely compositional sense is still as strong as ever, his ease with storytelling remains, and he still directs action sequences with a bracing directness and stylish economy. The fights and shootouts in this film are tough, brutal and always coherent, the artful touches subtle yet fitting. But these are flourishes, and there aren't quite enough of them to elevate the film.
Hill, a fine screenwriter, didn't write Bullet To the Head, unfortunately. Because if he had it would be a lot more interesting than it is. The story is generic to the point of parody. Hitman Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone) is double-crossed and loses his partner after a routine job. He teams up with a Cop from out of town (Sung Kang) to find out who was responsible, and goes up against a mix of gangsters and mercenaries, best represented by the lethal Keegan (Jason Momoa), whose skills seem to rival Bobo's own.
If that sounds utterly straight-to-dvd, well that's because it is. Each story beat and plot turn could have come from a "How To Make a B-Action Movie" manual. Christian Slater - these days confined to the DTV ghetto for past crimes against cinema - even shows up as a scumbag lawyer, and it's set in a series of straight-to-dvd (i.e. cheap) locations like a multi-storey carpark and a disused ironworks. Otherwise, Hill puts the New Orleans locations to decent, mildly atmospheric use, cranking the very-'80s mix of rootsy rock and blaring harmonica on the soundtrack up really high in the hope that the sensory distractions provided by his images and sounds might cause us to miss how thin the characters are here, how clumsy the exposition, how basic the plotting.
This story limps along in awkward little spurts, Cop and Hitman squabbling dully inbetween punishing action sequences. Those squabbles frequently allow Stallone's character to engage in some ethnic stereotyping - again, a very '80s element - as their conversations clunkily move the plot along. Stallone plays Bobo as a bit of a dick; he has no arc whatsoever, which is almost refreshing, and his lack of emotional range suits the actors immobile face and gut-sucked-in acting style. Kang is a list of cop cliches rather than an actual character, and he could be entirely removed from the film with little noticeable effect upon the story. Momoa makes the best impression; fearsome and nasty in the action sequences, he snarls his way through the few scenes in which he has to emote or speak, and the way he relishes his own mayhem makes as big an impression as any other non-Hill element here. But given that this is probably one of Hill's last films, we should enjoy him while he's here; and while this lacks the mythic boldness and stark simplicity of his greatest work, there is enough of his great talent still here for a receptive audience to relish.
*Ok, his worst film is still probably either Brewsters Millions or Supernova, but you get my meaning.