The new Sly Stallone’s action thriller, “Bullet to the Head,” might have been titled “Bullet to the Brain.”
A retro actioner, but not in a cool way, the new picture feels as if nothing had happened to this popular movie genre for decades, or at least since the 1980s, when Stallone was riding high at the box-office with his series Rambo” and “Rocky.”
In that decade, both director Walter Hill and star Stallone were at their prime. Hill might be the greatest disappointment in commercial Hollywood cinema. Here he functions as a gun for hire—there is no evidence of his unique talent and idiosyncratic touches, evident in his former (much better) films.
“Bullet to the Head” also plays with some of the notions of the buddy-buddy genre, though, here, the buddies are actually adversaries who are forced to join forced to join forces against a mutual enemy by necessity—their very lives are at stake.
The story is based on the popular graphic novel “Du Plomb Dans La Tête,” which, though originally written in French, was inspired by the American cinema. French author Alexis Nolent, who goes by the name of Matz, shapes up a tale of a killer and a cop, whose peculiar bond crosses the line of law, ethics, and morality.
The story opens as Jimmy and his partner Louis are on a routine hit. Their target is Hank Greely, an ex-cop who was kicked off the force in Washington D.C. in disgrace. Tough and professional, they don’t know who and why they wants him dead, and they don’t ask questions.
The difference between the two is a matter of extent: The cop is just a tad more square and straight than the hit man. For a while, you go along with the potentially intriguing concept was that the two characters, who seem to have nothing in common actually have more in common than they had ever imagined.
But after the first reel, it becomes clear that the concept is just an excuse for telling an old-fashioned, conventional saga.
As an action star, Stallone, who’s roughly Schwarzenegger’s age, and older than Bruce Willis (who also has a new actioner this spring) has not aged particularly well, and since he was never much of an actor, and more of a screen persona, advanced age has become a liability. Here and there, Stallone is given some semi-witty one-liners, which he delivers in his famously laid-back, nonchalant mode.
As for Walter Hill, who is 71, his direction is impersonal and indifferent, staging one routine set-piece after another. Known in his best work (“The Long Riders,” “48 Hours”) for his virile mode, male-oriented tales, and lively, often riveting stylistic touches, Hill is now at best a functional craftsman.