Bullet to the Head may have a 2013 release date, but this Sly Stallone flick feels exactly like 1983. (And there's not a lick of nostalgia accompanying that violent fact.)
James Bonobo—otherwise known as Jimmy Bobo—is angry.
Not that you can tell most of the time. This hit man's face looks about as flexible as a cinder block. Perhaps his plastic surgeon has warned him not to smile or frown, fearing that doing so might cause his skin to crack at the seams. His lips are pursed, forever kissing the air underneath his nose. He blinks once every fortnight.
And yet, we know he's angry. We know because every now and then, his pursed lips curl into a snarl. We know because, occasionally, he risks opening his mouth to let out a growl. We know because if he was happy and well-adjusted, he'd probably not kill quite as many people.
Jimmy' troubles begin when he and his corpse-creating cohort fulfill a contract on a drinking, drug-snorting, extraordinarily rude former cop—unwinding afterward at a New Orleans country bar. Jimmy leaves to visit the little boys' room and is promptly attacked by another contract killer. He escapes, of course, but he's unable to help out his bud.
Meanwhile, an out-of-town police detective by the name of Taylor Kwon gets wind of his old partner's demise and comes down to the Big Easy to check things out. He quickly figures out that someone wanted his old partner dead for a reason (which would make sense), and he's determined to find out why. Best place to start? Why, talking with the folks who killed him.
You'd think that Jimmy, being a professional hit man and all, would be difficult to find. You'd also think that Kwon, knowing that Jimmy is a professional hit man and all, would quickly arrest Jimmy, reducing the movie to a mercifully short 20 minutes.
Alas. Kwon has no problem finding Jimmy and instead of arresting him, invites him to a bar for a drink. Jimmy accepts. Kwon suggests they work together. Jimmy accepts. And then, between killings, Kwon natters on about Jimmy's horrific career choices and how he (Kwon) plans to arrest Jimmy as soon as it's mutually convenient.
Yes, Jimmy Bobo is angry. He's got to hunt down the guy who killed his buddy, endure a cop for a sidekick and suffer through an interminably horrible movie. What hit man wouldn't be a little miffed?
Jimmy, we're told, isn't just an assassin: He's a principled assassin. He only kills lowlifes. He never kills women and children. He loves his daughter. And he swerves for cats that jump in front of his car. On the ethical relativity meter, this does put him somewhere north of Joseph Stalin. Good for him.
We don't know how Kwon would react to street-roaming cats. But he does encourage Jimmy to not kill every evildoer he meets: Some of 'em could be, y'know, beaten severely and then taken to jail.
Lisa, Jimmy' daughter, is a tattoo artist: One of her designs features Jesus' head crowned with thorns.
Lisa also takes baths. We know because we see her in one. At first her arms and a sketchpad obscure her more delicate parts. Then she gets out of the tub, and we see her backside and breasts. A prostitute takes a shower, presenting her breasts and backside to the camera as well.
Jimmy and Kwon crash a ritzy costume party where, ironically, many of the women wear little else but their masks. Audiences see several pairs of bare breasts mingle with the crowd, along with some exposed posteriors. Two naked dancers tango across a room.
For her tattoo business, Lisa offers several depictions of mostly naked, bare-breasted women with cherry-red nipples. We see guys in their skivvies. We hear that Kwon and Lisa got to "really know" each other. Graffiti makes reference to the size of someone's testicles.
Any movie that deigns to call itself Bullet to the Head is implicitly promising scads of violence. And, at least in that regard, this one lives up to that unfortunate promise. More than a dozen people do indeed get a bullet to the brain—often getting shot several times elsewhere before the shooter's aim finally homes in above the neck. Often we see victims after they die, bullet holes bloodily gouged into their foreheads. Other kills or injuries are also accompanied by splashes of blood. An example: Jimmy kills a car's driver via pistol, splattering blood on the passenger. (We see this scene twice.) Another assassin mows through eight people in a bar.
Several deaths are proceeded by elaborate fistfights, where folks hit walls and crash through furniture, leaving everybody bloodied. Two people fight with fireman's axes—getting thwacked with handles and fists before one guy skewers the other man's foot with the back of the ax, then stabs him in the neck with a knife. The victim then pulls the knife out of his neck and looks ready to continue the rumble … before he's shot several times in the back.
A man refuses to divulge any information when Kwon patiently questions him. So Jimmy hits him in the gut with a rifle butt to loosen up his lips. As a reward for him finally cooperating, Jimmy kills the guy.
Jimmy's partner is stabbed four times in the bar. We hear later that the fatal wounds punctured both of the guy's lungs and perforated his heart. Kwon is shot twice, the bullets creating bloody wounds. He's stitched up by Lisa, who pulls a bullet out of him. Several people die in showy explosions. Someone runs over a thug with a car. Lisa's hit, roughed up and knocked out.
In a forensics lab, Kwon (and the audience) sees a corpse undergoing an autopsy; skin is splayed out, exposing ribcage, musculature and organs.
Crude or Profane Language
Nearly 40 f-words and 20 s-words. We hear "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "b‑‑tard," "h‑‑‑," "p‑‑‑" and "pr‑‑k." Jesus' name is abused once or twice; God's is misused a half-dozen times, twice paired with "d‑‑n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Jimmy has an affection for a whiskey called, of course, Bullet, even bringing a bottle to the bar and renting a glass for $20. A party is overflowing with booze, and the host asks if anyone has any drugs. Jimmy and his "business" partner kill a man whom we see drinking and snorting drugs. A prostitute in the bathroom takes a few pills. Kwon is given liquor to deaden the pain before his "operation."
Other Negative Elements
There's the threat of someone urinating in the booze at one point. Lots of cops and high-level officials are being bribed by the bad guys. Several racially-themed jokes are told about and hurled at Kwon.
Bullet to the Head may have a 2013 release date, but it's really a movie straight out of 1983. It's got Sylvester Stallone, for one thing—still looking as chiseled as he did in Rambo and as leathery as a pair of Grace Jones pants. It's also got racially charged buddy banter that went out of fashion with 48 Hrs. (which was, incidentally, directed by Bullet helmsman Walter Hill). Sure, we do see Kwon fiddle with a smartphone now and again, but protagonist Jimmy Bobo treats the thing as one might treat a rabid cockroach. None of that newfangled mumbo-jumbo for this hired killer.
Don't take all this 1983 talk as nostalgia, though. This movie is downright awful—no matter what you're looking for in a movie, no matter how you define awful. Whatever pleasure it dispenses is purely unintentional. It's full of sexual content and foul language and vicious violence. And its underlying ethos is no less stunted.
"Sometimes you gotta abandon your principles to do what's right," Jimmy Bobo tells us at the outset. It makes me think that someone at some time wanted this movie to be a murky morality tale, showing us how a tough childhood and a tougher adulthood can really mess a guy up … but that if he tries to be the most ethical killer he can, there might be some hope left for him in the world.
But that lame, lazy lesson got hit in the head with a bullet long before this flick started doing the same to theatergoers.
From that respect, I suppose I should be thankful Bullet to the Head is so bad. 'Cause nobody's gonna be wanting to cut Jimmy any slack after seeing this massive misfire.