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Movie Review: "Bullet to the Head"

Frank Masi/Warner Bros(NEW YORK) -- Bullet to the Head, starring Sylvester Stallone.  That statement alone could be the entire review.  Given that title and that star, this movie is pretty much what you’d expect -- only better.
Stallone plays New Orleans hit man Jimmy Bonomo. He is an extremely bad man -- and by bad, I mean bad in the good way we like our anti-heroes to be bad.  At 66 years old, Stallone looks like a Donatello sculpture come to life, if the Renaissance sculptor had specialized in rendering juiced-up, tattooed elderly men.  Stallone’s an aesthetically complex but compelling on-screen presence that will draw you in.
When we first meet Bonomo, he's on a job but soon discovers he's been double-crossed.  The job's a set-up and his partner is killed. Enter Taylor Quan (Sung Kang), a D.C. detective who comes to town to investigate the murder of Jimmy’s partner, a former cop who was once Quan’s partner. Quan is an unwelcome presence, both in New Orleans and in Jimmy’s life, but the two of them need each other to figure out what went wrong. Of course, Jimmy wants to kill the responsible party or parties and Quan wants to arrest them, along with Jimmy, when their journey together is through. After all, Quan's a cop, and that’s what cops do.
Two things set this gratuitously violent, predictable action flick apart from the likes of recent action releases like The Last Stand and Broken City: director Walter Hill, and Stallone himself. Hill (48 Hrs., Last Man Standing) makes the most clichéd action sequences exciting.  The best example is a scene in which Kang (who could use a shot of charisma) is being chased in a parking lot. There's no music to accentuate the action -- just great camera angles, great use of sound and a deft sense of timing. It’s a scene we’ve seen a million times but here, it'll make your heart race instead of your eyes roll.
Jason Momoa, great in Game of Thrones as Khal Drogo but not quite so good as Conan the Barbarian, is a cool, collected monster here and really could have a terrific career playing these sorts of roles, with real potential to be one of the all-time great villain actors.  Also good is Sarah Shahi, whose tattoo artist is a nice twist on the “hot-girl-in-an-action-movie” role, even though that twist has been done before (and I'm not going to spoil things by telling you what it is).
To sum up: Stallone still has it.  His trademark on-screen stoicism has served him well in his career but it’s also become a bit of a crutch (see either of The Expendables movies).  In Bullet to the Head, he holds back in the right places so that when he’s required to deliver an effective one-liner, it lands like a powerful right hook.  Director Hill and Stallone also show the same restraint when it comes to the well-choreographed violence.  While I wish this movie was a little less predictable and Kang was a little more exciting, Bullet to the Head will absolutely satisfy anybody who’s interested enough to buy a ticket.
Three out of five stars.

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