Everybody has a dog story in the heist-gone-wrong thriller, “Bullet Head.” Even the dog.
And these stories are told, mostly in smartly-handled, rhapsodic flashbacks, in Paul Solet’s tale of crooks trapped in a warehouse with a bloodied fighting pit bull out for revenge. It’s almost exactly what you want in a crime genre picture — good actors, great dialogue with a tasty, righteous twist to the proceedings.
Oscar winner Adrien Brody and ought-to-have-an-Oscar character actor John Malkovich are grizzled veterans of the safecracking trade. They joined “a soft in, soft out” job set up by a junkie (Rory Culkin) and it went wrong.
Their car shot up with the get-away driver dead, they’re waiting for “a pick-up” at this vast, abandoned warehouse in the outskirts of town. Recriminations? Yeah. The old guys should have known better than to trust “the kid.”
They should have known better than to take on “one last job.”
There are only three kinds of “last scores,” the elder statesman (Malkovich) grouses.
“The kind where you serve life. The kind where you’re served a bullet. The kind where you walk away.”
They didn’t “walk away,” and here they are.
“Here,” we’ve seen in a parallel plot, is an active crime scene itself. A mobster (Antonio Banderas) is running a high stakes dog fighting tournament here. Rottweilers, mastiffs and pit bulls named De Niro, Eastwood, Jackson, Bronson and Freeman, fight, with the losers promptly dispatched by their heartless trainers.
Only one doesn’t die. His trainer does. I’ll let you imagine how. Now, the safe-crackers are trapped in the building, unarmed, with a killer dog.
Not that a gun would help.
“I’ve done plenty of bad,” Brody’s crook declares, “but I ain’t shootin’ no f——g dog!”
Writer-director Solet, whose “Mars” TV series was a hit for National Geographic, makes this ruined warehouse a labyrinth of breathless chases and near-death experiences, mazes of stacks storing who-knows-what, an abandoned gym, holes in floors, holes in walls and catwalks to escape onto.
But it’s the characters and the dialogue that make this cut-and-dried thriller work. Brody and Malkovich swap “cat person/dog person” put-downs. They make their animal encounters of the past compelling, charming and almost-funny.
Just guessing here, but those monologues are probably the reason this cast signed onto Solet’s picture. Culkin’s is the most heartbreaking. Banderas gets his across with just his Spanish growl, no filmed recreation necessary.
And yeah, we see a lot of “Bullet Head” from the dog’s point of view, not just the blurry, fish-eye lens chases. A dog has to have a hard life to get to where he is, and we see it.
The players give great value, one and all. We stop wondering “Why’d they sign onto this?” (a bit of a parlor game with any Adrien Brody movie) quickly. We empathize with most of the characters, even the killer beast out to get them.
It’s a clever trick for a movie with a predictable story arc and a marvelous fatalism about its characters. It’s the players and their points of view that let “Bullet Head” score something close to a bulls-eye, even if the shot is fired at easy, close range.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, bloody images, language, some drug use and nudity
Cast: Adrien Brody, John Malkovich, Rory Culkin, Antonio Banderas
Credits: Written and directed by Paul Solet A Saban Films/Millennium release.
Running time: 1:33