Review by Bob Ignizio
After carrying out their latest assignment, veteran assassin Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone) and his partner get double-crossed by their employer, costing Jimmy's partner his life. The man Bobo killed turns out to have been an ex-Washington D.C. Cop kicked off the force for corruption. Because of that, the Washington PD sends one of their own, a young, tech-savvy (and extremely naïve) Detective named Kwan (Sung Kang) to investigate. That doesn't sit well with the local Louisiana cops, for more than just territorial reasons. Kwan quickly figures out that Bobo had to be the assassin and that his former boss is trying to kill him, but the fact that the local cops are blatantly corrupt escapes his notice. After Kwan tracks Bobo down the two grudgingly accept that they have a common enemy and form an unlikely team. Lots of shooting, punching, knifing, and assorted other acts of violence ensue.
Although based on a French graphic novel, BULLET TO THE HEAD feels an awful lot like an attempt to replicate the formula of director Walter Hill's 1982 hit 48 HOURS. Once again we have an old/young, cop/crook odd couple teaming up to track down the bad guys, all the while fighting with each other at least as much as with their enemies until finally reaching a sort of grudging mutual respect. There isn't nearly as much humor without an Eddie Murphy type as one half of the team, but there's still a fair amount of attempted comic relief, even if the Asian driver and “Stallone is so old” jokes are more likely to elicit groans than laughs.
As he's proved in a string of recent hits starting with his RAMBO reboot and continuing through the EXPENDABLES franchise, Stallone still has what it takes to be a convincing (and bankable) action hero. Kang has kind of a thankless role here, being made to look more or less inept when he isn't using his smart phone, but his innate charisma comes through nonetheless. Main villain Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is just another generic evil businessman who is apparently smart enough to run a powerful criminal empire, yet every decision we see him make in this movie is the dumbest one possible. Fortunately his flunkies are more interesting, with Christian Slater making for a fine weaselly attorney and Jason Momoa providing a formidable foe for Sly.
Hill directs this like the eighties never ended, which is both good and bad. On the plus side, he still knows how to shoot a good action scene with a strong sure hand, and although the film does utilize some fast cutting, it's done in such a way that the viewer is always able to follow what's going on. On the downside, the casual sexism the film exudes is the kind of nostalgia most audiences could probably do without. Every female character we see in the film is a prostitute with the exception of Bobo's daughter Lisa (Sara Shahi) who exists only to patch up the wounds of the protagonists and, later, to be captured by the bad guys. And then there's the mild racism, like the aforementioned driving jokes. It's not like it feels meanspirited, but the tired old ethnic jokes here are so stale they make one wish for boring, uptight political correctness.
All issues aside, BULLET TO THE HEAD is an entertaining, if familiar, action flick. It's not likely to make enough of a lasting impression to warrant a spate of uneven sequels like some of Stallone's star turns, but neither should it sink into badfilm infamy alongside turkeys like OVER THE TOP, DEMOLITION MAN, and the ever popular STOP OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.