Bullet to the Head (2012) Review: A totally violent, ‘90s action movie dinosaur
Bullet to the Head (2012)
Sylvester Stallone is James Bonomo, AKA Jimmy Bobo – an aging hitman for hire who’s out for blood after his long-time partner gets clipped. Jimmy strikes up an uneasy alliance with an L.A. cop to take down the man behind the murder, and things get personal when Jimmy’s daughter gets involved.
Sylvester Stallone’s geriatric shoot-em-up is a post-90s pastiche of every Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and Tango and Cash flick, with all the slapstick sucked out of it.
We’re talking two hours of totally unapologetic violence, with a handful of cutesy one-liners thrown in to keep the mood just above suicidal. That’s all this movie does, and it does it well.
The tagline should have been something like, “Hey, haven’t I seen this before?”
The tough guy hero with a racially diverse sidekick, the dead partner who needs avenging, and the ex-mercenary villain with a twisted sense of honour – it’s all paint by ‘90s numbers, and it’s all supposed to remind us of the good old days when men were men, and action movies were painfully simple.
But there’s one thing that makes Bullet to the Head just a little bit different from its ancestors of two decades ago: Stallone’s anti-hero character, Jimmy Bobo.
If it was 1989, or even 1999, he’d be the badass hitman with a moral code, and deep down, a heart of gold. The ultimate action cliché. But it’s 2013, and instead, he’s the badass hitman with an amoral code of greed, and hardly any heart left at all.
You could call it deja vu with a twist.
Jimmy freely admits he murders for money, and nothing else. Protagonist or not, there’s nothing heroic or admirable about who he is and what he does. This is worlds away from those ‘tarnished gold’ type characters Sly played so much in his prime, and it’s the one real surprise in an otherwise very simple film.
The ‘good cop’ straight-man character, detective Taylor Kwon, isn’t quite as interesting.
He’s the more human side of the duo, the one we’re supposed to relate to and react with as Jimmy murders his way through the movie. But this ‘90s buddy-cop archetype is showing its age. Audiences today don’t seem to need that humanity. We accept that Jimmy Bobo is no hero, in any sense of the word, and go right on enjoying the mayhem.
But then, I suppose it wouldn’t be a real throwback without a Murtaugh to Stallone’s Riggs. Maybe not the best analogy, but you get the idea.
Then there’s Jason Mamoa, a new-school action star born 20 years too late. He fits right in with the retro violence vibe of Bullet to the Head, and you can’t help but think what a good bad guy he would have made in the action genre’s heyday.
The real let down with Bullet to the Head is the ending. It’s a shamelessly happy one.
Bad guys die, partner avenged, daughter saved. And wouldn’t you know it – Jimmy gets out of the hitman biz. But for a movie that tries to (at least on some superficial level) explore the idea that a life lived by the gun is no life at all, the smile-fest ending feels a little like a robbery.
If Bullet to the Head really stuck to its guns, it would have ended with Stallone getting a, well, bullet to the head.
Limp ending aside, this is a great way to re-watch your favourite ‘90s action movies, without actually re-watching them.
Oh and in case you were wondering, there is a literal bullet to the head. Or ten.