Truth in advertising: Plenty of caps get busted in plenty of craniums throughout the brisk, bloodily buoyant Bullet to the Head. (Hell, not even the production-company logos are safe.) The first theatrical release from director Walter Hill since his underrated prison boxing drama Undisputed (2002) pits a mismatched duo—slab-o’-beef hit man Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone) and by-the-book cop Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang)—against the New Orleans criminal underworld. It’s pure comic-book malarkey, adapted from a graphic novel by French artist Matz. But the skeletal plot affords Hill the opportunity to go atmospherically hog wild.
The noirish Big Easy locales are of an ethereal piece with the threateningly foggy Louisiana bayous in Hill’s Southern Comfort (1981), as well as his fantasy gangland Manhattan in The Warriors (1979). When Kwon runs into a frontline parade to avoid some gun-toting baddies or Bobo confronts a sniveling snitch in a smoky, back-alley bathhouse, you’re reminded how Hill is one of the few filmmakers who can lend a profoundly grounded sense of place to the pulpiest material. What he’s unable to do here is leech the movie of Stallone’s overbearingly wink-wink machismo. The steroidal performer’s bullish attitudinizing and cheap-seats–stoking line readings (“What are we…Vikings?!?”) lack that certain timeless B-movie potency that sends you out into the night with a testosterone-addled spring in your step. He’s like a past-his-prime icon trying to recapture long-lost glories on the Cobra reunion tour.
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