In retrospect, the most ridiculous aspect of Bullet to the Head was not the axe fight between Rocky/Rambo/The Specialist (Sylvester Stallone, playing “James” here) and Khal Drogo/New Conan (Jason Momoa, playing “Keegan” here). Nor was it the Eyes Wide Shut-by-way-of-New-Orleans sex party organized by corrupt lawyer Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater). Nor was it the fact that James’ partner, a “WDCPD”—as in, “Washington, D.C., Police Department,” an acronym that, to the best of my knowledge, does not exist—officer named Taylor (Sung Kang), can instantly access info about criminals in New Orleans over his cell phone.
No, the most ridiculous aspect of Bullet to the Head is that the murder mystery at its heart revolves around a plot by a developer named Robert (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) to illicitly bribe a member of Congress to speed along construction in a rundown section of New Orleans.
Since when is it illegal to funnel money to politicians? Hollywood needs to learn that suspension of disbelief only goes so far.
James is a New Orleans hit man. He and his partner, Louis (Jon Seda), execute a snitch but get stiffed out of their fee. Not only do they lose out on their fee, but Keegan, a hulking merc doing the bidding of Robert and Baptiste, also murders Louis. “WDCPD” officer Taylor joins James in an effort to track down Keegan and figure out why Taylor’s star witness in the aforementioned congressional corruption investigation has been murdered.
Bullet to the Head, like The Last Stand two weeks ago, is a throwback to the late-80s, early-90s actioners: A big name more or less playing himself needs to do what is right to avenge his friends and stop the bad guy. It is big and brash and bold, laden with copious amounts of violence, a minimalist plot that is quickly explained in a fit of exposition-vomit by a minor character, and paced vigorously enough to get audiences in and out of the theater quickly.
It is a fun film, one that doesn’t strain the cranium—indeed, it might aggravate the brainpan if one gives it too much thought—while also providing plenty of eye candy. It is also the first feature that Walter Hill, best known for hardboiled features like Last Man Standing and Red Heat, as well as the premiere episode of HBO’s Deadwood, has directed in a decade.
More intriguing than the film itself is the reaction audiences will have to it. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Last Stand tanked at the box office, grossing just $10.7 million through two full weekends. (By way of comparison, Django Unchained grossed $15 million in its first day.) The era of the star-driven feature has been teetering for some time, having been replaced by the franchise-driven feature, but this month might finally be the true death knell. Stars don’t really put butts in seats any longer.
It is the end of an era and some will shed more tears than others. (The Slys and the Ah-nulds of the world will shed the biggest tears of all, no doubt: $20-million-per-picture sized tears.) If this is a wake, however, it’s Irish in nature: Bullet to the Head is an adrenaline-fueled, rip-roaring good time that asks little of audiences while still managing to fill their most basic filmgoing needs.