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Bullet to the Head Review: Hey, Stallone! The '80s Called. They Want Their "The '80s Called" Joke Back

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | February 1, 2013 | Comments ()


bullet-to-the-head-sylvester-stallone.jpg

There's a certain distasteful arrogance about Stallone movies, and Bullet to the Head is the perfect distillation of it. In the film, Stallone plays James Bonomo, a life-long low-level hitman who has been arrested 26 times and convicted twice (which we are needlessly reminded of on a few occasions throughout the course of the film). He'd double-crossed by the people who hired him to take out a crooked ex-cop, Bonomo's hitman partner is killed, and through a nonsensical plot contrivance, Bonomo becomes an unwilling partner with an Asian cop, Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang).

The dynamic between Bonomo and Kwon is representative of much of what is so irksome about the film. Kwon is younger, uses his smart phone to assist him in investigations, and -- as an officer of the law -- is inclined to question suspects to extract information. Bonomo, on the other hand, beats them until they submit, then shoots them in the head. That's the gist of the entire film: Bonomo and Kwon work their way up the ladder of middle men, violently dispatching of each, until they arrive at the big bad (Jason Momoa). There's no mystery or nuance to Bullet to the Head; it's a series of brutally cold sequences that always end with a dead body or 14.

But it's Bonomo -- and Stallone's -- insistence that the old-school methods are superior that's so infuriatingly bothersome. It's not just in the way that Bonomo eschews technology. The dialogue is spare and corny, and the themes, the look, and the sound of the film are stubbornly 80s, right down to the "Mike Hammer" soundtrack. It revels in the era but fails to acknowledge how terrible the 80s were. The same joshing racism, sexism, and muscle-headed thuggery that marked Reagan-era action pics is celebrated here, not in an ironic sense, but in the sense that it was a better time, a time when bad Asian driver jokes were in vogue, when topless waitresses served the appetizers, and when Christian Slater could trot out his bad Nicholson impression without reproach.

Bullet to the Head completely ignores the last 30 years, or even the evolution of action hero from John McClaine to Jason Bourne. That's fine, for nostalgia's sake, but what I appreciate about modern action heroes is that violence is a means to an end; our heroes feel conflicted; and they are often resourceful. There's no resourcefulness in Stallone flicks. It's just point and shoot. The point Is the violence, not the motivations behind it.

Look: I like violence, particularly of the creative variety. But I prefer that it serve a purpose. In Bullet to the Head (which, seriously folks, is the worst possible title given the climate, and I'm certain it's not playing well in places like Newtown or Aurora or Tuscon), the purpose is the violence. There's not much plot contained within the splattered cranium of a non-dimensional sucker who is only the bad guy by virtue of not being Stallone. Stallone wants it that way. He and director Walter Hill seem to be saying, in the condescending way that racist old f*cks speak to rowdy kids before kicking them off their lawn: "Well, back in my day, sonny, story, character, and dialogue were unnecessary elements of a film. They only existed as an obstacle to overcome to get to what really counts: Chunky, spewing brain matter." There are better lawns to play on than Stallone's.







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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • TheMudshark

    Just make another Rambo film and be done with it.

  • Some Guy

    This review paints with a pretty broad brush...

    "In Bullet to the Head (which, seriously folks, is the worst possible title given the climate, and I’m certain it’s not playing well in places like Newtown or Aurora or Tuscon), the purpose is the violence."

    Seems to me, Rowles, that you too seem to be ignoring the last 30 years. For the entire review you bash Stallone films in general and 80's action films, and from the sound of the review, save for some aesthetic decisions and bad dialog, the movie is not the typical Stallone film, nothing like an 80's action movie, and more in line with what Stallone made throughout the Clinton-era 90s, not the 80s. The only time he plays hit men are in The Specialist, and Assassins. Both 90's films. Most other times he is playing a cop in a comedy film that has action scenes.

    Stallone in the 80's was primarily Rambo, a character who doesn't fit the "life-long hit-man" narrative one-iota. Rambo fights to rescue POWs and to help Afghani's against the Soviets. Hardly hit man stuff. The action is rather tame. He plays a cop in Cobra, who is fighting to save a witness. The action is rather tame and cartoonish as well.

    Did you see the violence in the newest Rambo though? Ridiculous! Far more violent, and racist, than any of the 80s incarnations. Heck, in most 80s action films, the protagonist was usually in the military or a cop. They weren't crooked, they were good at what they did, and, while violent, they were usually forced into the situation where the bodies start to pile up.

    A life-long hit-man in an overly violent film? Seems to me that this movie perfectly encapsulates where film, and film violence, reside today.

    You're projecting your wrath towards the wrong decade, and you are lumping all of Stallone's film together without stopping to recognize the fact that while many of Stallone's films contain action, they are hardly "action" films, and most aren't even that violent.

    This review needed more work. ""There’s a certain distasteful arrogance about Stallone movies." I mean, which films, exactly, are you talking about here? It's the recent Stallone films you have a beef with, Dustin, not the 80s.

  • c

    Anyone else notice how far the Die Hard franchise has fallen? The first four flicks in the series were lynchpins for either summer or holiday blockbuster times. The fifth one is being dumped into the theaters at the traditional time of year when the studios fart and barf out all of their crap films.

    HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So funny how far Willis star has fallen, though I do give him points for fucking with Kevin (I LURVE eating my uggo wife's stinking butthole while she faps off my 1/20" boner) Smith and telling Smith to go fuck himself.

  • Irina

    I understand the point you're trying to make, but by God you shall not diss John effin McClaine, you heathen!!

  • Sara_Tonin00

    The hell you said. Christian Slaters impression of Nicholson was gold!

    As someone in close proximity to Williamsburg, capital of Hipster - just see Colbert's LOTR map - I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Dustin, from reading his writings and seeing his photo - is no hipster. He may be snarky, but that's not hipster.

    Also - it is A-OK to note that the violence in a movie is bad, and possibly immoral, in its consequence-free violence. Dustin, for the record, is a 30something year old white dude, so I'm pretty sure he IS the intended audience.

  • PDamian

    When will someone give Jason Momoa a decent role in a decent film? Yes, I know -- not the best actor, or even the second best. But he was sooo good as Khal Drogo, and he had his moments in Conan. Given the right material, he's just wonderful to watch. Of course, the right role requires that he remove his clothing, but Game of Thrones proved that he's okay with that, so why not?

  • BlackRabbit

    Have him be Black Adam if the Captain Marvel movie ever takes off (which it won't but hey).

  • Fredo

    You know what this movie reminds me of? Kiss. The band Kiss. Remember how when they first got back together everyone was all like "Kiss! OMG! I've heard legends about them! Look! He spits blood! And the fireworks!!" That was The Expendables. Everyone was excited after hearing and seeing the 80s heyday of action movies. Then The Last Stand came out and this movie comes out and everyone goes "Oh yeah, that's why we forgot about Kiss. Yeah, yeah, whatever Gene. Go spit blood at your kids."

  • DenG

    Oh, snort! If the "dialogue is spare", my husband will be very gratified.

  • God Of Bal-Sagoth

    Despite my protestations to some of the arguments above, I will say that I don't know that the discussion of the timeliness of the movie is a particularly useful discussion point. I feel like movies - especially goofy ones like this - should kind of be able to exist in a current affairs vacuum, and not be judged just because they came out at an unfortunate moment in time.

  • Movies like this may very well neatly encapsulate the big, dumb, muscle-bound 'splody-ness of 80's action films. I remain unconvinced that is entirely a bad thing. I would say, though, that reviews like the one above do neatly encapsulate the snotty, condescending film hipster style of review which, personally, I find more obnoxious than Stallone doing what Stallone has been doing for a good thirty years now

    The review comes across kind of surprised, which I don't know why anyone would be. I don't really think anyone going into a movie called 'Bullet to the Head' starring Sylvester Stallone thinks they're getting a sensitive Oscar contender about the trials and triumphs of the human spirit.

  • God Of Bal-Sagoth

    Movies like this may very well neatly encapsulate the big, dumb, muscle-bound 'splody-ness of 80's action films. I remain unconvinced that is entirely a bad thing.

    I don't think he's saying that it's a bad thing. I think he's saying that in this movie, it's done badly. An important difference.

    Also, can we please just all agree to stop using "hipster" as an insult? It's stupid, vague, lazy, has too many interpretations and doesn't really even make sense in this context. The "hipster style of review"? What does that even mean?

  • Lee

    Yeah - "hipster" is becoming entirely too overused lately. I'm still not even sure what it means.

  • Pajiba_Pragmatist

    I'm at least as offended by that horrible hairpiece in the still. Is he going to Nic Cage's hairdresser?

  • Mrs. Julien

    The real crime here is the hairpiece.

  • JJ

    Stallone was born in the 1940's. This is ol' Peepaw in his natural element.

  • Badlands

    This is a pretty terrible review. From complaining about a film called "Bullet To the Head" being to "cold" and "brutal" to saying it fails to acknowledge how terrible the 80s were and the violence is not up to today's action movie standards, it is pretty obvious you are not the intended audience for this type of movie. 80s action movies were not terrible simply because they seem dated now. They were a ton of fun. And the way the violence and action were staged was far superior to the overly polished look, quick cuts, and nauseating camera movements of today's action flicks. I'm all for modern technology and innovation but I also relish a no frills, down and dirty throwback. Not sure what you were expecting going into this, but your review is a recommendation as far as I'm concerned.

  • God Of Bal-Sagoth

    So... movies should only be reviewed by the "intended audience"?

    That's... pretty stupid.

  • PDamian

    I've often thought that horror films should be reviewed only by folks who genuinely appreciate the genre, so I'm not entirely opposed to this notion. As a horror fan, I do become a bit irritated with critics who dismiss horror films with a snide, "OMG -- so unrealistic," without any real discussion of the tropes and/or cliches in the films. That being said, I'll probably see this -- but only because Momoa's in it, and I have high hopes for at least one shirtless scene.

  • God Of Bal-Sagoth

    Yes, but in this case I feel like the reviewer did talk about those. Like I said, his problem isn't with the concept, it's the execution.

  • Well, I honestly don't think the 'intended audience' for this film hangs out at Pajiba. Some of the Sundance films that haven't been reviewed here yet on the other hand....

  • Fredo

    I love 80s action films. I love bad films. I am the intended audience.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Isn't Dustin's point that it was a badly done throw back and unsuccessful specifically because of its refusal to acknowledge the dichotomy between then and now, and that Jason Momoa is wearing entirely too much clothing?

    I may be projecting with that last bit.

  • BWeaves

    Yeah, bad time to release a movie with this title and this plot.

  • Mark Ollen

    Yeah, you're probably right. If people protested Zero Dark Thirty, I've got to believe "Bullet to the Head" is going to at least cost this film some box office activity.

  • I don't know about all that. The people who would be inclined to see this probably aren't all that concerned about it, and the people who are inclined to be concerned about it probably weren't planning on going to see Stallone shoot people in the head and fight Conan with axes anyways.

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