Fittingly, Bullet To The Head begins in a burnt-out, sepia palette. And while wholly insignificant in narrative terms, it’s almost as though Walter Hill is visibly winking from behind the camera lens – as if to say “You know what? There’s no place like home”. And home is exactly where Hill takes us. Back to Hill’s home, and back to a time when action movies had less fluff, and more bite. Having literally written the book on hard-boiled action movies from the late 70s onwards, Hill throws us right back to where it all began – riffling through his own old pages to give us something frequently nostalgic, but somehow never backwards.
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Bullet To The Head is not a film burdened by enormous complexity. Hill unapologetically scythes the plot down to the very bone, giving just enough of a narrative skeleton to ‘hang’ the film’s action on – while the semi-ubiquitous subplot of greed and corruption is starved of much-needed oxygen. Vengeance is unquestionably the drive throughout much of the film. With Stallone‘s Bullet-bourbon-swigging hitman Jimmy Bobo forming – against his better judgement – an unlikely alliance with out of city detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), in order to tail those responsible for their respective partners’ deaths.
Yet, for what is essentially another buddy movie, Bullet To The Head never feels stale. The template itself might be tired to the point of exhaustion, but Camon‘s script fizzes with the kind of gritty, world-weary dialogue so often lost in the sands of modernity. “So that’s the way it went down” Stallone at one points growls. “Nothing changed except some people got killed that nobody’s gonna miss”. Momoa and Slater (as Keegan and Marcus Baptiste), meanwhile, also impress. The former, a hulk-like nemesis to Stallone’s Bobo; the latter, the sleazy face of the morally bankrupt.
The undeniable star of Bullet To The Head, however, is the action sequences themselves. Gun and knife fights, brawls, even an axe-on-axe finale between Bobo and Keegan, Bullet to The Head scarcely disappoints in either variety or intensity. Even after all these years, there is little doubt that Hill knows how to choreograph an action movie.
Though while unquestionably exhilarating, Hill’s directorial comeback might be destined to be somewhat polemic. Such a nostalgic homage has the potential to either enthrall or grate, and some will not only question the relevance of the film in the modern action sphere, but whether the project is little more than a long-overdue Stallone vehicle – from a director who courted him so openly in decades past.
But whether Bullet To The Head is the shot to the arm the genre needed, or a toothless soar down a proverbial dead end, few can deny the fun Hill’s film has in the process. And at a moment in time when large factions of Hollywood are in danger of taking themselves much too seriously, any action movie capable of making this many headshots – while exuding this amount of visceral fun – is surely more than worth the price of admission.