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By Brian Lafferty

February 1, 2013 (San Diego) -- Bullet to the Head is the second film in three weeks - Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Last Stand being the other - to star one of my favorite action heroes from yesteryear.  The addition of long-absent action director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hrs.) ups the nostalgia factor.  Bullet to the Head recalls those 80s and 90s action crime films that Hill and Stallone are known for while keeping up with the 2010s. 

Bullet to the Head is in the tradition of Hill’s 48 Hrs., but finds a lot of different ground to cover.  Stallone plays James Bonomo, a New Orleans hit man who seeks vengeance against the brute who murdered his partner and young protégé following their hit on a disgraced cop.  Washington D.C. Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), the partner of the former cop, seeks answers but finds himself in over his head.  But Bonomo helps him and the two work together to bring down the corrupt and murderous leaders of the Crescent City underworld whose powerful influence spreads far beyond the reaches of the Louisiana Bayous.

The world of Crescent City, Louisiana is an unsavory one.  At night, the streets are dark and seedy.  Only the rich are fortunate to have respectable-looking residences while the poor live in blight-tinged neighborhoods.  Rampant corruption renders the police useless, as Kwon quickly discovers when his Louisiana counterparts put a bullet in his shoulder.

Sylvester Stallone's unique persona - namely his thick New York accent, heavy muscular build, dry wit, and gruff demeanor - enables him to carry a film.  This persona still remains in Bullet to the Head, however worn down from middle age it is.  He's still buff and tough, but he's in his sixties, not his thirties, which makes him an easier target for the younger bad guys.  The “me against the world” attitude frequently seen in his characters are tempered by a wiser, world-weary outlook on life.

Bullet to the Head earns its R rating, and its title, with heaps of bloody and graphic violent content.  In one scene a henchman is hurled several stories to his death.  A passing shot reveals brain matter spewed from the cracked-open skull.  Bullets to the brain are routine, but I don't mean that negatively.  Rather than getting tiresome, each head shot is no less unsettling than the last.  This isn't your perfunctory bloodless action flick where people get shot and fall down like a dummy.  Most of the time these people are defenseless loose ends who are not allowed to live.  This is but one of many sticking points between the idealistic Kwon and the unfeeling Bonomo.   

The cold-bloodedness that colors these shootings and killings for some strange reason don't disrupt the otherwise comedic one.  It's like how 48 Hrs.'s darker moments were offset by Eddie Murphy's zing and one-liners.  The gunshots are unusually loud and the sounds of bullets piercing flesh, walls, and metals leave an aural impression as deep as the holes the bullets leave in the surfaces.


Bullet to the Head is now playing in wide release.

A Warner Bros. Pictures release.  Director:  Walter Hill. Screenplay:  Alessandro Camon, based on the graphic novel “Du plomb dans la tete” by Matz.  Original Music:  Steve Mazzaro.  Cinematography:  Lloyd Ahern II.  Cast:  Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jason Momoa, Christian Slater, Jon Seda, Holt McCallany, and Brian Van Holt.  Running time:  91 minutes.  Rated R.

Brian Lafferty welcomes letters at brian@eastcountymagazine.org.  You can also follow him on Twitter:  @BrianLaff.

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