Blu-ray Review: Bullet to the Head

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Though it tanked miserably upon landing in theaters this past February, Bullet to the Head is a fast-paced piece of violent fun that plays far better on the small screen. Though helmed by veteran director Walter Hill, the Sylvester Stallone vehicle never really shakes the ambiance of a direct-to-video feature. The perfunctory storytelling, generally stilted dialogue, and decidedly B-grade supporting cast all add up to a movie that screams “rental” rather than purchase. But Stallone fans should enjoy it as a lean (90 minutes including credits), no frills thriller.

In a way, Bullet plays more like an ‘80s action throwback than Stallone’s nostalgia-driven Expendables franchise. Plot is kept to a bare minimum, with Stallone portraying anti-hero James “Bobo” Bonomo, an aging hitman whose partner Louis (John Seda) is murdered after the pair takes out a crooked ex-cop. Louis’ killer is Keegan (Jason Momoa), a towering mountain of muscle who works for crime boss Robert Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Keegan meant to take out Bobo too. Bobo reluctantly teams with out-of-town cop Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) to work their way up the New Orleans crime ladder. Kwon wants to put the bad guys behind bars, while Bobo simply wants to blow them away. “Bang. Down. Owned.” That’s Bobo’s catchphrase, a mentality that defines the entire film.

Bullet 1 (380x253).jpgJust exactly what kinds of illicit behavior Morel is up to, along with his corrupt lawyer Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater), really doesn’t matter. The down and dirty fun lies in Stallone’s badass hitman working with Kang’s by-the-books cop. Upping the personal ante for Bobo is the involvement of his daughter, Lisa (Sarah Shahi), a tattoo artist who moonlights as a triage doctor. A vague romance subplot begins after Lisa fishes a bullet out Kwon’s shoulder. But when she gets apprehended by Keegan, Bobo’s revenge lust goes into overdrive. There’s not much depth when all is said and done, but what can be found lies in the relationship between Bobo and Lisa.

Bullet 3 (380x253).jpgOn Blu-ray, Bullet to the Head is a mixed bag from a visual standpoint. Fine detail vanishes during many of the darker sequences, particularly during the bathhouse fight between Bobo and a goon. Even some close-ups are a little lacking in sharpness. There’s a general inconsistency in terms of contrast, though this is inherent in the original cinematography. On the plus side, the DTS-HD 5.1 mix is positively rocking. Steve Mazzaro’s swampy blue rock score sounds terrific, with the bass and drums really providing kick to the LFE channel. The explosions are, well, explosive—the highlight is a particularly booming blow-up deep in alligator-infested waters (you’ll know it when you hear it). Stallone’s craggy voiceover has lots of natural resonance.

Bullet 2 (380x253).jpgUnfortunately for anyone wanting to know more about what was reportedly a problematic production (that resulted in a heavily-delayed release), there’s almost nothing here in terms of special features. “Mayhem Inc.” is nothing more than a ten-minute EPK that features a bunch of interview clips with the primary cast talking about how awesome the movie is. Ultimately, Bullet to the Head is kind of awesome for fans of Stallone, who is dryly funny while managing to hold onto some scummy, tough guy credibility. Bobo and Kwon never truly warm up to each other (Hill calls it an “anti-buddy” movie), but Stallone and Kang make a good team.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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