The Expendables, and The Expendables 2, and the forthcoming The Expendables 3, and however many Expendables films they decide to do until there are no nineteen-eighties action heroes left standing (probably through arthritis), have proven that explosions, butt kicking, and one liners are still a bankable commodity.
But just how bankable are action heroes these days when removed from the comfort zone of those movies? How do they fare in their own solo projects?
Bullet To The Head is Sylvester Stallone’s first movie post Expendables 1 & 2, without Jason Statham and the rest of the guys to back him up. He plays a small town locksmith who has looked after his dying mother for the last twenty years, leaving him with no time for a love life.
When his mother passes away, she leaves him a mysterious box in her will, and a trail of clues to the location of it’s key. What’s in the box? Will the key unlock the secrets of his past? Or is the box a metaphor for something deeper? Will the key ultimately unlock his heart, where he finds the love he never knew he had for the woman who runs the local diner?
Wait a minute, that’s not right. No, of course it isn’t. He’s playing a hitman. Would he play anything else? Well, maybe a cop. Or a cop turned hitman. Or a hitman turned cop. Or a soldier. Or a soldier turned hitman. Or a mountain climber. Or a boxer. Or, and so on and so forth.
Where's the chemistry?
It doesn’t matter. Because the plot’s rubbish. Walter Hill directs, and he seems to be aiming for something like one of his earlier, most successful films, 48 Hours. Aiming, and blasting wide. Like he was aiming at a barn door, and ended up killing a cow in the next field.
However, it’s not like the plot of 48 Hours was particularly amazing. But it did have great buddy chemistry and banter between Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, and a more youthful zip to its direction which kept things moving. The very things which are lacking from Bullet To The Head.
Stallone’s “buddy” in this is Sung Kang, a cop who teams up with Stallone to get even with some corrupt cops and property barons, or something. I don’t know, motivations all round seem pretty limp, like nobody’s really interested. There really is absolutely zero chemistry between Stallone and Kang. It’s like the movie belongs to Stallone, and Kang is just an interloper. The banter between them tries too hard, and isn’t funny. Unlike 48 Hours, there’s no sense of a growing friendship between the two. Considering he’s a cop, Kang’s character lets Stallone’s hitman get away with an awful lot.
Other than Stallone and Jason Momoa battling hand-to-hand with fire axes (which reminded me of the hammer fight in Streets Of Fire) at the film’s climax, giving rise to one of Stallone’s better lines in the movie (“What are we, fucking Vikings?”), there’s little to recommend Bullet To The Head.
The axe fight is the only real moment where Walter Hill’s direction genuinely comes alive, showing there’s still a spark of the old genius in there somewhere. For the rest of the movie, it’s a spark which never really ignites.