There's no question that Eddie Van Halen-esque guitar licks should accompany the sight of Sylvester Stallone delivering justice from the barrel of a gun or directly from his fists, but one must also recognize that this is an aesthetic package with a clear shelf date. “Bullet to the Head” is the newest film from Walter Hill, whose oeuvre of bare-knuckle cinema peaked around 1986, and it's a spoiled dish that's been laying out collecting flies this entire time. It isn't retro. It isn't cute. It's just an embarrassment.
We open in New Orleans – not out of any fealty to the unique, indigenous culture, but due to the well-publicized tax write-off that comes from filming there. Sylvester Stallone is a hitman with a conscience. He'll put a bullet in the titular head of his mark, but if an innocent prostitute happens to be in the next room (showering, naturally, because we need some skin in the first scene) he isn't going to pull the trigger. THE MAN HAS A CODE! Fealty to this code exposes a set-up, which begets a reckoning, which eventually leads to everybody fighting in a warehouse of some sort. Always a warehouse.
Let it be known that Sly still has screen charisma, however. Few men with granite physique can mumble his way to glorious, self-deprecating humor quite like Stallone. There are, I swear it, one or two genuine smiles in this one. Would that any of his recent films allowed the playfulness seen in press conferences to take root. Instead Sly insists on bench-pressing the weight of the world's justice system, putting himself in harm's way for the sake of what a man knows is right.
In this particular case it means siding with a cop (a cop!) to root out corruption in the force and dishonor among thieves. The “Fast and Furious” vet Sung Kang is the square detective, who oh-so-lamely relies on technology like cell phones to get the job done. (A recurring motif is the tidal wave of exposition Kang is able to call-up from his mobile device. The resultant info is pasted directly on the screen, on non-specific web browsers, from no clear in-movie source. A Godardian effect? If the rest of the film weren't so lazy, I'd allow it, but no.) Despite Sly's distrust of someone from the other side of the thin blue line, he'll let the team-up to happen.
Along the way there'll be some really unfunny racial jokes – not so much offensive as just dumb – and a nascent romance between Kang and Sly's perpetually tank-topped daughter. The final showdown involves Sly and Jason Momoa fighting one another with axes.
There are some pockets of life in this affair – some of the hand to hand fighting has a tactile brutality, or maybe I'm still reacting to the recent trend of setting brawls in public restrooms and using sinks as weapons. (Luckily giant blocks of weaponized porcelain still feels new – lo, what will become of me when I'm desensitized to even that?!) Unfortunately the bulk of the picture is cut together like a beer commercial on poorly lit cheap video without much panache. Unless primary colors with a gauzy halo is panache. Can't be sure. Nor can you be sure if Sly is wearing tons of lipstick in some shots. (It's really, really bad video.)
There's a place for “Bullet to the Head” and that's on Superstation at 3 AM when you stumble home from the bar and have enough sense not to start drunk dialing. In 1993.