BULLET TO THE HEAD (Walter Hill). 92 minutes. Opens Friday (February 1). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNN
When a movie isn't screened for the press - especially in the winter dead zone between January and March - it's usually a bad sign. The generic sell on Bullet To The Head, with plenty of shots of a tattooed Sylvester Stallone walking around looking threatening, didn't exactly get my hopes up.
So colour me surprised.
Bullet To The Head is a perfectly competent action movie, thanks to the efforts of veteran action director Walter Hill. It's been a long time since the glory days of 48 Hrs., Streets Of Fire, Johnny Handsome and Trespass, and Hill hasn't directed a theatrical feature since 2002 jailhouse boxing picture Undisputed. But he hasn't lost his step.
Bullet To The Head is a Walter Hill picture through and through. Characters are simply but efficiently defined, the plot's just an excuse to pit various gun thugs against one another in a series of crisply orchestrated confrontations, and the New Orleans backdrop allows for an atmosphere defined by sweat, booze and zydeco music.
Alessandro Camon's script, based on a French graphic novel by Matz and Colin Wilson, follows the 48 Hrs. model pretty closely, with DC detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) looking up New Orleans hit man Jimmy Bobo (Stallone) to find out why Bobo killed Kwon's former partner. The heavies who ordered the hit are now gunning for Bobo, hence the uneasy team-up.
There are no real surprises, but that's kind of the appeal of Hill's old-school approach - though his fondness for casual female nudity feels more than a little out of step with modern action filmmaking. (Yes, Sarah Shahi is lovely, but her nude scene is utterly unnecessary.)
Kang, who paid his dues in Ninja Assassin, the last Die Hard and a couple of Fast & Furious movies, is fine in an undistinguished hero role, and Stallone takes himself a little less seriously than he does in the Expendables movies. Jason Momoa glowers appropriately as a hulking assassin, and Christian Slater is surprisingly human in a small role as a blustery lawyer.
I've certainly seen worse in the last couple of weeks.