Sly one-ups Arnold in that old school regard by bringing in Walter “48 Hours” Hill, king of action directors when Stallone was in his glory days – the ‘80s.
But “Bullet” isn’t remotely as direct as its title. It shows all the hallmarks of a movie that’s been re-cut, that changed directors (Wayne Kramer started the film). Characters, relationships and motivations seem shortchanged. And it’s every bit as dated and dumb, in different ways, as “The Last Stand.”
Still, Stallone brings the burly and the breezy to this turn as a New Orleans hit man teaming with a cop (Sung Kang) to track down the guys who set him up and got his partner killed.
Jimmy “Bobo” Bonomo (Stallone) has borrowed his “code” from the anti-hero of John Woo’s “The Killer” – “No women, no kids.” A hit he carried out led to repercussions. A knife-wielding brute of a mercenary (Jason “Conan” Momoa) killed his partner, and Jimmy has to do something.
So does this out of town cop. Sung Kang often finds work in the films of his pal, Justin Lin (“Fast and Furious” movies). As Detective Kwon, he steps into the spotlight, and shrinks. The editing makes the character an under-motivated mystery. The performance is charisma free.
It doesn’t help that Jimmy and everybody else keeps confusing the Korean-American with other ethnicities.
“Don’t condescend to me, Kato.” “Nice going, Odd Job.” “I’ll be waiting, Confucius.”
But again, this is Old School – ethnic actors are for belittling, bad guys are for shooting and women are for rescuing and gratuitous nude Mardi Gras parties and shower scenes.
The plot has to do with “Crescent City” corruption – they never call New Orleans by name. And Christian Slater’s character, a lawyer, should have been named “Mr. Exposition.” He gets to blurt out all the intrigues and conspiracies.
Stallone’s Jimmy curses as if he’s been saving up for the occasion, growls at his partner’s cell phone addiction and makes everything Kwon sees as complicated blunt and simple.
“Guns don’t kill people. Bullets do.”
The partners feud, make threats about “When this is over,” and Kwon fails, utterly, to hold up his end of the bargain as does the actor playing him. When your tough guy leading man keeps you “You stay here and listen to the radio” whenever he’s about to walk into trouble, you might as well have “lightweight” stamped on your head.
But Hill knows how to stage a rumble, and when the hit man and the mercenary tangle with axes, it’s epic.
“Are we gonna fight or are you gonna bore me to death?”
“Bullet to the Head” was chopped down so that Stallone might hold the picture together, and it’s a credit to his still formidable screen presence that, whatever weak links surround him, he almost pulls it off.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Momoa, Sun Kang, Christian Slater, Sarah Shahi
Credits: Directed by Walter Hill, written by Alessandro Camon, based on the Alexis Nolent graphic novel.
A Warner Bros. release.
Running time: 1:31