Right in Walter Hill’s wheelhouse, and it’s nice to have him back. A little over a decade ago Hill directed a nifty little boxing gem called “Undisputed”, that was loosely based on Mike Tyson. It was gritty and tough, like most of Walter’s work, and it featured terrific perfs from Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames and Peter Falk. It barely made a dime at the box office(but thankfully spawned a cult following on DVD). It was the last feature film from Walter Hill until this feature arrived last winter. And you know what…he’s vastly underrated. “Hard Times”, “The Warriors”, “48 Hrs.”. Yes, they are all from 3 decades back or more, but he’s had some more recent critically admired work too, like 1992’s “Trespass” and 1995’s “Wild Bill”. But Hollywood demands hits, and strong numbers have avoided him for years now. And “Bullet to the Head” is no exception. It grossed just under 10 million bucks and it was the weakest opening feature for star Sylvester Stallone ever. And, of course, like the vast majority of Hill’s work, it’s better than advertised. Blunt, brutal, and glaringly tailored to its leading man—it still gets the job done. And I don’t know how natural it all is, but at 66 years old upon the movie’s release, Stallone looks jacked. Those pulsing arm muscles are a show by themselves.
So, Sly is a hitman named Jimmy Bobo, living amidst the seediness and corruption of New Orleans, Louisiana. After Bobo and his partner eliminate a criminal cop, D.C. detective Taylor Kwon(a functional Sung Kang from “The Fast and the Furious” franchise)is brought in to investigate the assassination. We also witness Bobo’s partner Louis Blanchard(Jon Seda)getting whacked by a rival hitman named Keegan(the hulking Jason Momoa). Kwon confronts Bobo in a bar and lets him know that he realizes Bobo murdered the wayward officer. When Kwon is attacked after following Bobo outside the watering hole, Jimmy Bobo rescues Kwon—but not before Kwon takes a bullet to the shoulder. Afterwards Bobo brings Taylor Kwon to a tattoo parlor to get his bullet removed “underground”, by a gorgeous ink artist with a year of med school—who turns out to be Jimmy’s daughter(hot Sarah Shahi). Rapidly, this story weaves deeper and deeper into shady police work and fraudulent business dealings that ends up with the unlikely teaming of Bobo and Kwon—as they are pursued all the while by the murderous Keegan.
Look, Walter Hill has worked this buddy bit before…and much better than he swings it here. In fact, Sung Kang and Stallone barely manage any chemistry at all while they are functioning as “partners”. And Momoa, as Keegan, fails to do much more than simply look big and glower. So, the work all falls on Sylvester’s massive shoulders. And, you know what? He carries the damn thing pretty well. He slow burns, he glares menacingly, and he sports his own specific whiskey when entering taverns(most don’t carry it, it seems). He also growls some cheesy one-liners(a Stallone specialty), has a fight in a bathhouse(it won’t make you forget “Eastern Promises”, but it suffices), and finally engages in an axe battle with Momoa. This is what this stuff is supposed to be like…and I’ll take it over detritus like “A Good Day to Die Hard” any day of the week. If it’s maybe a notch below Arnold’s comeback “The Last Stand”(released around the same time, it too failed at theaters), they would still make a decent DVD double feature—especially considering that the aging musclemen will team up later this year in “Escape Plan”. So, why not? It’s lean and serviceable at barely 90 minutes, and it’s bathed in that senior citizen action star nostalgia. In other words, like Arnie in “The Last Stand”, Sly riffs on his age. But I bet they can still teach the youngsters something. If not, why would “The Expendables 3” be on the way? Grade: C+