What is proving to be a rough start to 2013 for Hollywood only gets worse for moviegoers as Sylvester Stallone flexes his beefy biceps and octopus-like veins as a New Orleans hit man in the laughably lame buddy-action flick Bullet to the Head.
Based on the French graphic novel Du plomb dans la tête, Bullet to the Head is an amalgamation of bad: action-movie clichés, uninteresting characters, bland one-liners, a bore for a villain, and Stallone's worst buddy pairing since his team-up with Estelle Getty in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
Sung Kang, marginally known as some random guy in Fast & Furious, Fast Five, and this summer's The Fast and the Furious 6, has that dubious honor. Kang plays a D.C. cop named Taylor Kwon who travels to New Orleans to investigate the murder of his former partner, a disgraced police detective who went rogue in a big way: drugs, hookers, extortion. Kwon is this film's Jackie Chan, only without the stunts, fighting skills, charisma, and anything else that make Chan worth watching.
Stallone plays James Bonomo, a hired assassin with Incredible Hulk-like veins in his arms. And like the Hulk, Bonomo never met a three-syllable word he liked — much less could pronounce. It's Bonomo and his sidekick in professional killing who are hired to off Kwon's former partner as he resides in a local hotel.
Bonomo doesn't know much about their target or why someone is paying them to kill him and he doesn't care; in an opening voiceover to the film, Bonomo said his only ethics for his vocation is not to shoot women or children.
His nice guy nobility is tested on this assignment, though, when he discovers a hooker hiding in a shower. And true to his convictions, he lets her live for reasons that are only marginally explained later, but which really has no relevance to the film other than to set up trouble with his employer who isn't happy about potential witnesses to the crime left to talk to the police.
Bonomo isn't too worried; "she won't talk," he says confidently to his partner, who nevertheless is concerned that they didn't finish the job as contracted.
Of course, his partner is dead man walking. Keegan (Jason Momoa, already forgotten as the titular Conan the Barbarian in the 2011 reboot flop), a former military-ops-turned mercenary, is the man hired for that job. But the trained killer fails to kill Bonomo.
Bonomo and Kwon then meet, exchange unpleasantries, and agree to work together to track down those responsible for their partners' deaths.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (best known as fan favorite Mr. Eko on Lost for two seasons) plays the head of a local mob, Robert Nkomo Morel, who is trying to conceal the truth about the number of public officials on his payroll. His big plans for paying off these officials is to open condos. Yes, the root of all this carnage and death is real estate.
Christian Slater plays a lawyer and local businessman named Marcus Baptiste who works for Morel. The fact that Slater is in this film should tell you everything you need to know about this film.
Walter Hill, in his first movie directorial effort in a decade, is hardly inspired with Bullet to the Head, as Bonomo and Kwon float from routine car chase to routine shootout to routine fistfight and back again.
I didn't think it was possible to make a boring action film in New Orleans, but Bullet to the Head proved me wrong.
The film's glaring flaw, though, is pushing itself as a mismatched-cop buddy film, only with a hit man instead of a police detective. Stallone has as much chemistry with Kang as he did classes in college, and try as the actors might, there's nothing witty in their repartee.
To wit: While trying to shake down Marcus, Kwon tells Bonomo that torture isn't the answer, but only by methodically working the suspect in ebbs and flows will they get the answers.
"Like a concert," he said.
"Break his leg and he'll perform a Who concert," Bonomo replies.
That Kwon is Korean-American also leads to all sorts of witty jokes about Asian stereotypes including driving, martial arts, and food. Even with all that time away from directing, Hill proves he is still a man of the times.
Bullet to the Head
Directed by Walter Hill. Written by Alessandro Camon, based on the Alexis Nolent graphic novel. A Warner Bros. release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity, and brief drug use. Running time: 91 minutes.
Critic's rating: *½
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.