Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 18, 2013)
Early 2013 didn’t prove fruitful for aging action heroes. 80s legends Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis all put out new flicks – and all of them flopped. Actually, Willis’s A Good Day to Die Hard didn’t totally tank, but its $67 million gross made it the least successful Die Hard flick ever and a substantial commercial disappointment.
On the other hand, $67 million looked stellar compared to what Willis’s peers did. Schwarzenegger’s The Last Stand mustered only $12 million, while Stallone’s Bullet to the Head petered out at $9 million. Well, at least all three can look forward to 2014’s Expendables 3 and hope for the best!
In Bullet, New Orleans hitman Jimmy Bonomo (Stallone) and his partner Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda) kill disgraced former District of Columbia detective Hank Greely (Holt McCallany). When they go to a bar, an enforcer named Keegan (Jason Momoa) slays Louis and attempts to kill Jimmy, but Bonomo manages to escape.
DC detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) flies to New Orleans to investigate, but he doesn’t get a warm welcome from the local cops. Kwon contacts Bonomo and the pair form an unlikely alliance to get to the bottom of the situation and solve it to the satisfaction of both sides.
Stallone isn’t the only 70s/80s notable who pops up via Bullet, as Walter Hill – best-known for flicks like 1979’s The Warriors and 1982’s 48 Hours - leads his first directorial effort since 2002’s Undisputed. Hill hasn’t been totally dormant over the last decade, as he worked on projects like Deadwood, but this brings him back in a more active way.
As a creative comeback, Bullet doesn’t reinvent any wheels. One could argue that 48 Hours did more to influence the “mismatched buddies” genre than any other movies, and Bullet reflects that influence. Hill doesn’t really self-plagiarize, as Bullet lacks the comedy of Hours, but to some degree, it does feel like a return to that same territory.
And a return to the 80s, too, as Bullet comes across as a throwback. While I can’t say it feels dated, it also rarely seems like something modern. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – hey, it’s nice to get a film without a teal and orange palette, and Hill avoids the overuse of shakycam that mars so many contemporary flicks. Still, it’d be nice to see a movie with a little more juice to it that didn’t feel like it could’ve been made 25 years ago.
None of this makes Bullet a bad action/detective flick, but it fails to become anything out of the ordinary. I’ll say this for it: I appreciate the presence of an Asian character who lacks martial arts skills. Bullet nods at Kwon’s ethnicity via occasional lame – and unnecessary - wisecracks, but that’s it; otherwise he could be any race, and I like that.
Other than that, Bullet comes with a fairly clear “been there, done that” factor. While it delivers a decent story and action experience, it doesn’t manage to elevate its game at any point. As noted, the pairing of the criminal and the cop has been done to death, and the way in which old school/new school butt heads via Bonomo and Kwon also feels tired.
We fail to find much chemistry between Kang and Stallone. They interact in a competent manner but always kind of feel like they’re in different movies. Some of that makes sense from the “mismatched partners” POV, but even when they try to connect, they don’t fit; they just don’t do much to bring out the best in each other.
Even with the stale nature of the story and characters, I still think Bullet provides a competent action flick. It throws out enough violent fun to make it watchable and moderately entertaining. It simply lacks anything to take it to a higher level, though.