The first thing a frequent moviegoer will think upon exiting the auditorium after seeing Bullet to the Head is “didn’t I just see a movie with this basic plot device?” That’s because they probably just did, when they saw Broken City. The scheme being orchestrated by the main bad guy is the same in both films.
The main difference here is that the star isn’t a former cop turned private dick. “Jimmy Bobo” (Stallone) is a lifelong lowlife who kills people for a living. He’s pretty good at it, although he’s done a few stints in the gray bar hotel. As the movie opens Jimmy and his partner “Louis” kill an ex-cop turned druggie in New Orleans . But when they go to collect the other half of their pay, “Keegan” (Momoa) kills Louis and was going to kill Jimmy but Jimmy gets away. Knowing that he’s been double-crossed, Jimmy vows to find out who hired him and take them out. All the way out.
The dead ex-cop turns out to be the ex-partner of a Washington DC cop named “Taylor Kwon” (Kang) who is in town looking into the death. Turns out that the dead ex-cop had been blackmailing a local crime boss named “Robert Nokomo Morel” (Akinnuoye-Agbaje). His lawyer is a drunk named “Marcus” (Slater) and Keegan is working for him. Keegan is a former mercenary who kills as much for pleasure as for the money he earns doing it.
Kwon locates Jimmy and convinces him that they should team-up to find out who killed their dead partners. Of course he makes it clear that the minute they’re done he’s going to bust Jimmy, because that’s his job. The unlikely pair go on a tour of the underbelly of the Big Easy’s criminal community and try to unravel the mystery of who is trying to kill Jimmy. And Kwon, when it becomes clear they are working together.
All the clichés are here. Crooked cops. Crooked lawyers. Shoot-outs. Fights, hand to hand and of course the climactic scene involving axes between Keegan and Jimmy that was overexposed in the film’s trailer. It just doesn’t work well. Kang and Stallone aren’t a good pair to begin with. In spite of Stallone’s rapidly approaching 67th birthday, he is still in freakishly good shape and Bullet to the Head makes him out to be as strong, fast and skilled at killing as anyone else he confronts. He’s also shown to be pretty savvy, even if he doesn’t understand smartphones or Google. Kang is just not up to matching wits or screen-time with Stallone, and the uneven pairing is damaging to what might have been an okay movie. Sarah Shahi is gorgeous and makes great eye-candy, but she isn’t believable as Stallone’s daughter/former med school student/tattoo artist.
Worse yet, the killings are poorly done. Almost everyone who gets shot in this film manages to survive the first few wounds to the chest or elsewhere until the ‘bullet to the head’ kills them instantly. Momoa is a giant of a man who looks like he’d crush Stallone with little effort, adding to the difficulty in believing they are somewhat evenly matched.
This isn’t an awful movie and Walter Hill has done his best with a mismatched pair of leads and poorly written material. Wait for the Blu-ray.