While I have a long list of Schwarzenegger favorites, it’s much harder to pick a Stallone favorite. While Rocky did win the best picture Oscar in 1976, I’m not a crazy big fan of it – I actually prefer Rocky IV. First Blood was good but then was tainted by the multiple sequels. I still love pointing out that he wrote Staying Alive, because everyone seems to forget that he’s actually a good writer. You’re not going to believe this, but I will tell you that my favorite Stallone movie is Oscar from 1991. It’s a comedy, set in the 30s, and Stallone plays a gangster trying to give up his life of crime and go straight and based on (of all things) a French play from 1958.
It’s witty, silly, funny, and always makes me laugh out loud. I have often wondered if Stallone would do more comedy, but Oscar, and his other comedic attempts (I will not mention Stop – or My Mom Will Shoot) have largely been panned by both fans and critics. I would like to see both he and Arnold age gracefully enough to slowly step into ensemble pieces, and supporting roles.
With Bullet To The Head – it would seem that Stallone has no intention of doing anything of the sort. This movie looks and feels exactly like a late 80s/early 90s direct to DVD action flick. Now, there is nothing wrong with that, except of course that Dolph Lundgren has cornered that market – and I expect more from Stallone.
Bullet to the Head was adapted for the screen by the same man (Alexis Nolent) who wrote the Graphic Novel (Du Plomb Dans La Tete – French) on which it is based. Having not read that, I can’t tell you if it is an accurate translation or not, but it does feel very pulp-y and graphic novel-y. It was directed by Walter Hill – who is super-familiar with big time 80s/90s action flicks, having directed The Warriors, 48 Hours, Red Heat, Johnny Handsome, Undisputed and SuperNova (which is crazy and if you haven’t seen it –Peter Facinelli goes crazy and attacks Angela Basset, LDP, and James Spader). Lately he’s mostly been directing TV shows. The strange thing is, this was originally going to be directed by Wayne Kramer with Thomas Jane starring in the number 2 role. Kramer clashed with Stallone over the tone (Stallone can be very controlling about his projects – just what I’ve heard) and quit the project. Thomas Jane suggested Walter Hill as a director (Jane knows his classic action pieces), Hill cam on, and brought Joel Silver to produce the movie. Silver decided he wanted a more “ethnic” actor in the number 2 role and fired Jane to hire Sung Kang. If the behind-the-scenes is this disjointed, it’s not surprising that the finished product is disjointed.
The tone does jump around from deadly serious to bizarre buddy-action back-and-forth dialogue, and is very inconsistent throughout the movie. Stallone is difficult to understand on a good day – and seems to Bale-style-Batman his voice for this particular character. He’s overly tough and cocky, which is fine – but seems oddly forced here. He plays a New Orleans hitman who loses a partner on a job. Sung Kang plays the D.C. cop who comes into town investigating the death of his own partner. Apparently the crimes are connected, and the two team up (reluctantly) to ‘go after’ the bad guys: Kang to ‘bring them in’ and Stallone to ‘put them down’. The potential is there for some great back and forth, but it mainly comes off as awkward and uncomfortable. Even the couple of “hey- you’re an Asian guy” schtick (which was so much better done in Showdown in Little Tokyo) bits were flat and uncomfortable.
The cast is somewhat surprising in this movie:
· Stallone as Jimmy BoBo (no, seriously, Jimmy BoBo) is fine, but again – if he had half of the ‘aging’ nonsense that Arnold pulled off.... He still looks huge, to the point where I was a little grossed out by his super veiny arms.
· Sung Kang is best known from all the Fast/Furious movies, and from the spectacular Ninja Assassin, and is actually pretty good in this – well paced and natural, but has nothing surrounding him to help out. The budding relationship between his character and BoBo’s daughter would have been interesting, but is mainly left up to the audience’s imagination.
· Speaking of which, Sarah Shahi from TV’s Life and Fairly Legal, sports a bunch of fake tattoos to play the daughter. She is okay, but again – flat because there’s nothing really for her to do.
· Adewale Akinnoye-Agbaje – the best part of the Mummy Returns (well, one of the best parts – that giant Rock/Scorpion thing was pretty cool) plays the politician behind the plot. Knowing how fit he is from seeing him in G.I.Joe: Rise of Cobra, watching him fake walk around with crutches in this movie was humorous. He’s slick and evil – and does a good job treating everyone as though they are dispensible.
· Christian Slater – who hasn’t been in theater-released movie in 8 years – shows up as the lawyer; because these types of plots always have a lawyer. It was great to see him super smarmy and weasel-y.
· John Seda plays the hitman who gets offed in the beginning – not much to say there; likewise with Brian Van Holt, who has one scene – but it’s pretty entertaining…I mean – how often does someone get to say, “Stallone killed me in a bath-house.”
· "New Conan" Jason Momoa from Game of Thrones and Stargate Atlantis plays the heavy. He’s the henchman of the villains until he has enough and strikes out on his own. Plays a mercenary, and seems to be in the movie for the exclusive reason of showing off those combat skills he learned for Conan. He looks amazing doing it – seriously, that dude is crazy beautiful.
All in all – weak story, flat characters, okay acting, some good action sequences. I can’t recommend you pay full price, but if you’re a huge Stallone fan check it out.6 out of 10, just over average. Lost points for Stallone’s attempt at one-liners, just terrible. Gained points for Slater being weird. Lost points for the PTS…come on – it’s not 1989. Gained points for the fight sequence at the end.
Bonus Video 1: SuperNova Trailer – I told you, it’s weird. You should still rent it.
Bonus Video 2: Bits from Showdown in Little Tokyo – I know, I know, I keep mentioning it…but it’s how movies like this are supposed to be – silly and fun!
Bonus Video 3: Ninja Assassin – bloody good ninja action.
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews!