There are lots of bullets to lots of heads in the Sylvester Stallone-led Bullet to the Head. Directed by Walter Hill (2002’s Undisputed—anyone?) and adapted by Alessandro Camon (The Messenger!) from a graphic novel, this firing-squad-disguised-as-a-movie is a thing of moronic lunacy in which Stallone spits out barely intelligible one-liners (“Guns don’t kill people—bullets do.”) and threats (“Touch her and I’ll kill you with a fucking rock!”). It’s 91 minutes during which thinking is not allowed.
Good thing, because if you’re looking for a plot, there’s not much of one, and what story does exist is needlessly complicated. Stallone plays Jimmy Bobo, a lifelong felon who’s now a hitman in New Orleans. When his partner is killed, Jimmy somehow pairs up with a cop, Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), whose partner is also killed—at least according to the synopsis; random people are dropping all the time here—to find their common enemy, the one-named Keegan (Jason Momoa).
Where Keegan came from and what his problem is are mysteries for the ages. There’s some mention of real estate during an interrogation scene of one Marcus Baptiste (Christian Slater, whose very appearance after a years-long hiatus made about half the theater laugh), whose rapid-fire plot exposition is pure absurdity with an avalanche of details you’ll never catch. When Taylor says, “I think I broke this whole thing wide open!” the proper response is, “What thing?”
It doesn’t matter. This movie exists solely to prove that the 66-year-old Stallone can still kick ass—or that clever editing can make him look as if he can. (It’s probably not a coincidence that his film is opening a week after The Last Stand, starring his partner in geriatric thuggery, Arnold Schwarzenegger.)
Still, dude does look good, and here he fights as often with his fists as with guns and knives, and, in the finale, axes. (“What are we, fucking Vikings?” No tussle is too urgent to interrupt with a joke!) For good measure, a few ridiculous explosions are thrown in, too. (Who doesn’t have his home wired to blow?)
During his grunting opening voiceover, Stallone’s Jimmy intones, “Sometimes you gotta abandon your principles and do what’s right.” You get the feeling that by “principles” the filmmakers mean “standards,” and “do what’s right” is code for buying a ticket to this brainless piece of cinematic doggerel.
Stand Up Guys Directed by Fisher Stevens
“Bland” isn’t a word you would normallyassociate with Christopher Walken and Al Pacino. Eccentric, intimidating, weird, creepy—coaxing out any of these more familiar characteristics of the two actors would have given a boost to Fisher Stevens’ Stand Up Guys, a senior-thugs comedy written by first-timer Noah Haidle. As delivered, however, the film is amiable but dull, fitfully amusing but begging for some oomph.
Stand Up Guys opens with Val (Pacino) getting out of jail after serving 28 years. His friend and partner-in-crime, Doc (Walken), is there to pick him up and show him some hospitality, including feeding him, letting him wash up at his dingy apartment, and, of course, taking him to a whorehouse. But Val gets no bang at the brothel; his aged pecker is presently out of order and, like the script, needing a little boost. Cue the bottom-of-the-screenwriting-barrel: Viagra jokes, complete with an hours-long erection and, at the hospital, imminent insertion of a needle where a needle should never go. The scene does deliver one solid meta-laugh: Julianna Margulies playing an ER nurse. Margulies isn’t just there to supply a single joke, however. Her Nina is also the daughter of Val and Doc’s third partner, current nursing-home resident Hirsch (Alan Arkin).
The trio reunites, but a dark cloud hangs over Val and Doc’s one-last-hurrah with Hirsch: Doc has been tasked with killing Val by the oddly named mob boss Claphands (Mark Margolis), whose only son was killed by a stray bullet from Val’s gun. Doc’s got until 10 a.m. the next day to deliver Val’s body, and he repeatedly decides to and then changes his mind about when to pull the trigger as they rebond. Awkward!
As the trio steals a car and gets into various shenanigans, the script does offer a fairly steady stream of laughs, albeit gentle chuckles rather than guffaws. (And a scene in which Val quotes the Bible and Doc readily knows the book and verse is just strange.) There’s a bit of sadness, too, but mostly the story sticks to idea of “retired” ne’er-do-wells going out for one final night of fun. And a development in the plot explains the title: These are criminals with a conscience. They may freely thieve and frequent hookers, but when they maim or kill, their victims arguably deserve it.
Even if it may suffer a bit for it, the film’s most impressive achievement is tamping down Pacino, who of late has developed into a scenery-chewing ham as outlandish as his out-of-control hair. Yeah, his Val snorts cataract medication, hits on women who could be his granddaughters, and often expresses the desire to “party.” But mostly he acts like a human being instead of a coked-up maniac. Walken, too, plays Doc as a once-wild child who now in his twilight years just likes to garden and keep a regular routine. He even drops his trademark offbeat cadence. For gangsters closer to the end of their lives than the beginning of them, perhaps bland is just right after all.