Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review: Bullet to the Head

Sylvester Stallone may be old, but he refuses to play the old guy. He takes on the same types of roles he did 30 years ago -- often literally, when he makes Rambo and Rocky sequels. He's taken out restraining orders against gray hairs, wrinkles and flab. His muscles are probably the great-grandchildren of his 1970s muscles, who have all decided to stick around.

His delivery in Bullet to the Head is as wooden and garbled as ever. That's as it should be. An enunciating Stallone is hardly a Stallone at all, and would be like a Bogart who didn't snarl as he spoke or a Jimmy Stewart who didn't stutter or stretch out his vowels. This is Stallone the persona, roaming the New Orleans streets as a hitman with a heart of deer antler extract, narrating his own story like a 1940s gumshoe while spitting out 1980s catch-phrases and good-natured ironically racist jokes that might have been taken at face value in the 1970s.

His de facto partner is Taylor (Sung Kang), a D.C. cop who's under deep cover, trying to track down some mob boss or other who's connected to an evil land developer who wants to tear down old barns before kids can save them by staging musicals. Taylor exists as a surface for Stallone to bounce the post-racist jokes off of, and to antagonize the anti-hero by hitting on his semi-estranged tattoo-artist daughter.

The broad outlines of the movie are as irritatingly and comfortinly predictable as possible, but the finer details keep you on your toes. Director Walter Hill, showing a whisper of the action-crazy bliss he established in The Warriors (1979), 48 Hrs. (1982) and Red Heat (1988), gleefully trots out one bad guy boss after another, letting Stallone and his compadres cap one without a thought before they can get into Bond villain-style explanations of their sinister plans.

Bullet to the Head is a little smart in the way it's so unapologetically stupid. It drags and sags a little, then doubles back to make things right with its utter, detached cool.

The silly affair is as disposable as a tinfoil bubble gum wrapper, but just as shiny. You could get by without it, but this is a little something more than another box to check off for Stallone completionists. The everlasting gobstopper of an action star has done far, far, better and indescribably worse. An average Stallone is still better than most anything you can find in this advanced age.

Staring Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi and Christian Slater. Written by Alessandro Camon, based on a graphic novel by Alexis Nolent. Directed by Walter Hill. Rated R. 91 minutes.

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