Bullet To The Head Review

There is nothing particularly special and certainly nothing original about Walter Hill’s Bullet to the Head. Oddly enough, that’s perhaps what makes it so enjoyable. Based on a French graphic novel, it’s a defiantly old-fashioned action movie which is refreshingly un-ironic and played straight without being po-faced. At the very least, it demonstrates the virtues of straightforward craftsmanship and offers a decent showcase for Sylvester Stallone who may be 66 but still packs one hell of a punch.

Stallone plays a hitman, gifted with the unlikely moniker of Bobo which is somehow reminiscent of the Teletubbies, who, along with his partner Louis, assassinates a corrupt politician. A ruthless job but Bobo turns out to have a sentimental streak which leads him to leave the only witness, a prostitute, alive. Later that evening, Louis is killed in a bar by Keegan (Momoa) who subsequently tries and fails to knock off Bobo. Kwon (Kang), a cop from Washington DC, works out that the deaths of the politician and Louis are related and he teams up with Bobo to discover the truth.

Sylvester Stallone was always a rather underrated actor and he’s a lot of fun as the ageing assassin who still knows his way round the block. He still has charisma to burn and an attractive edge of self-deprecating humour. Sung Kang’s Korean detective is a slightly dull presence in comparison but there’s plenty of diversion from a supporting cast which takes in a furiously overacting Christian Slater, the impressive British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and the very attractive Sarah Shahi as Bobo’s tattooist daughter. As the villain of the piece, Jason Momoa certainly looks the part and is impressively tough but doesn’t have a lot to do except look cross, until the conclusion when he and Stallone have a very satisfying axe fight.

The problem, and it’s not a minor one, is that a lot of the film seems oddly second-hand. Bobo and Kwon have a buddy-buddy relationship which comes direct from Eighties action cinema – notably, of course, from Hill’s own 48 Hrs. – and their banter is remorselessly second-hand. This wouldn’t matter too much in itself but some of the action set-pieces have been done better before. The big centrepiece fight in a bath house is well staged but was done so much more effectively, and brutally, by David Cronenberg in Eastern Promises, and seems to exist largely to show off what good condition Stallone is in. There is an interrogation scene straight out of mid-period 24 and, most bizarrely, a costume party which looks like it comes from a straight-to-video exploitation remake of Eyes Wide Shut.

Yes the flaws don’t make the film less enjoyable and the familiarity of it all allows the viewer to enjoy the crisp direction of Walter Hill. It’s been a long time since he made a theatrical feature – 2002’s undervalued prison action movie Undisputed – and his reputation is probably long past saving. But in his heyday, he directed action with a stylish, visceral edge that was both kinaesthetically and artistically satisfying. You can still see this here in the clean, efficient staging of the fights and the headlong pacing which, despite a rather unnecessarily convoluted plot, keeps things to a tight ninety minutes. Bullet to the Head is not even remotely in the same league as Hill’s best films but it’s a perfectly respectable piece of work which deserved better than the dismissive reviews it received on its release.

The Disc

Entertainment One’s DVD release of Bullet to the Head is very much like the film; efficient but unremarkable.

The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and has been anamorphically enhanced. The film is rather unattractively photographed and has the slight teal look which is so common in movies nowadays. However, given this, there is nothing wrong with the transfer at all; clean and detailed with reasonably strong colours. There isn't the depth you'd get from a presentation in HD but Blu-Ray owners will be pleased to learn that a Blu-Ray disc is available. More exciting is the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack which roars with enthusiasm round all the channels and places Steve Mazzaro’s bluesy soundtrack very much to the fore. There is also a 2.0 mix present and optional English HoH subtitles are provided.

The only extra feature is a short promotional puff piece called “Mayhem Inc.” which tells us very little except how wonderful everyone concerned with the film is.

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