Like a sturdy old pair of boots that still have a few ass kickings left in them, Walter Hill's Bullet to the Head feels comfortable and dependable, but lacks the allure of something brand new and brightly polished. Yes, we've seen all of this done before with more passion, energy, and creativity, but it's still fun to watch the old guard do what they do best -- keep the bullets flying and the bad guys dying while throwing some much appreciated surprises our way -- all in a lean, mean 91 minutes.
Battle-scarred New Orleans hitman James Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) and his longtime partner Louis (Jon Seda) have just completed their most recent assignment, eliminating a cop named Hank Greely (Holt McCallany), when Louis is killed by hulking enforcer Keegan (Jason Momoa) before they can get paid. Soon after, Keegan botches an attempt on Bonomo's life, inadvertently revealing his face to Bonomo in the process. Meanwhile, Korean NYPD cop Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) shows up in town determined to find out who killed Greely, his former partner. When Kwon tracks Bonomo down to find out who hired him, both men realize that their best hope for catching their respective partners' killers is to team up. Before long, their trail of clues has led them to sleazy lawyer Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater), who is currently caught up in some shady business dealings with the mysterious and wealthy Robert Nkomo Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) that could implicate some serious power players in Washington, D.C. Now each new move that Bonomo and Kwon make could be their last, and as the cop does his best to stay on the right side of the law, the killer uses the only tactics that he knows get results. But even if they manage to get their man, that doesn't change the fact that they'll have to deal with one another once they've taken down their target.
If it wasn't readily apparent from the trite cop-and-killer-team-up-to-achieve-a-common-goal plot, Hill and screenwriter Alessandro Camon aren't exactly looking to reinvent the action genre with Bullet to the Head; they're just looking to tinker with it a bit. True, the same could be said about the endless glut of cheapie action flicks that flood the video market week in and week out, but they don't have half the budget or talent that Hill does, or a legend like Stallone to lead the charge. This late-career effort might be a faint echo of both men's best work, but it's still fun to watch them play. Walk in knowing that there's no possible way Stallone and Kang can share the chemistry of Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs., and that Hill himself isn't as hungry as he was when his career was in full stride, and you might just find yourself having a good time -- especially once the axes come out. Because much like the ballistic nature of its title, Bullet to the Head never slows down once it's blasted out of the barrel (in fact, the first image that greets us is a bullet speeding right between our eyes). Of course, we have Slater to thank for this, since most of the plot is revealed through interrogations and his only apparent purpose is to show up on cue and snivel out the details. But the truth is that, however unremarkable it is in many respects, Camon's script does maintain an impressive pace and tweaks the patented formula just enough to keep us from tuning out.
This is hard-R action done old-school style. If that's your game, then gather up and throw in. The sad fact is that we probably won't be getting too many more of these from Hill or Stallone. They're both being true to their roots and are still masters of their own crafts, and as a result this feels like something we might have seen in an alternate universe's 1986 -- badass bluesy guitar riffs and all.