Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bullet to the Head (C)

By all accounts, Walter Hill's New Orleans set buddy-action flick, Bullet to the Head, is not a good movie. For the majority of its running time, it's poorly directed, hopelessly clichéd beyond abandon, features a sleepwalking Stallone as its protagonist, and an unintentionally annoying Sung Kang as the cop accidentally brought into the generic conspiracy located at the film's relentlessly conventional core. Even those interested in trashy, old school thrills will come off disappointed by the sheer lack of personality on display. These harsh critiques mostly apply to the first 80 minutes: A crudely assembled pastiche of 80s and 90s hackneyed plot points, and conversations which follow for of a Mad Libs type structure compared to similar films of its ilk. For an R-rated Sylvester Stallone vehicle directed by former champion of action Walter Hill, including up-and-coming king of carnage Jason Momoa (Conan the Barbarian), the best aspect shouldn't be a cameo by Christian Slater as a flamboyant and corrupt lawyer. This isn't meant as an insult toward Slater, but not having the most memorable part of an action film named Bullet to the Head be a bullet to any part of the anatomy should be a violation of one of the biggest unspoken laws of filmmaking.

Let me stress this again: These harsh critiques only necessarily apply to the first 80 minutes. I say this because Bullet to the Head contains one of the best third act twists in recent memory. After spending almost its entirety following the conventions of 80s and 90s action flicks down to the tee, at the very last few moments Hill and screenwriter Alessandro Camon tear us away from the formula for an incredibly exciting climax. Set in an abandoned firehouse, it takes the traditional trope of the "protagonist has important information/bad guys have hostage who's family to the protagonist" featured in every other action film, and then literally blasts it to smithereens. It's exciting, exhilarating, and almost redeems the film for the monotony which came before it. The dull 80 minutes which proceed this climax actually assist its impact; had they been just as interesting and fun to watch as the last 12, it wouldn't of had the same force. Although it may just be in comparison to what came before it, Hill nearly successfully redeems himself at the end, but there's little else to recommend other than Christian Slater.

He hasn't been in a theatrically released film since Uwe Boll's 2005 financial and critical disaster Alone in the Dark, and has been serving his exile in the direct-to-video bin ever since. Despite Walter Hill not having made a film in over 10 years, and Stallone not carrying a starring role in a wide release, non-franchise film since 2001's Driven, the person most in need of a comeback vehicle is Slater. Hill will always have 48 Hours and The Warriors. Stallone will always have the Rambo and Rocky series, along with the continuing cash cow of The Expendables franchise. But, at the end of the day, it's Christian Slater who really needs the return to the spotlight. He's a fun actor, and proves his comedic timing and excellence in playing smarmy characters here in a tiny role. It's nice to see Stallone carrying a film, even better to have Hill back behind the camera, but putting Slater back on the big screen where he belongs is a decision worth celebrating.

Grade: C

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