Stallone rides the Bullet train

Bullet to the Head is a gritty, fun exercise in managing expectations.

On rare occasion, a film comes along to challenge cinematic tradition and wow audiences with something never before seen. It’s a watershed moment for that culture that forever changes the way things are done. Bullet to the Head is not that movie. It is a decent ride, however, especially for the moviegoer whose ability to manage expectations is as healthy as his or her suspension of disbelief. If you like gritty action, straightforward-storytelling and aren’t too hung up on plot, this flick is for you.

James “Jimmy Bobo” Bonomo (Sylvester Stallone) is a grizzled New Orleans button man whose partner, Louie, is knifed in a bar while they’re enjoying a post-whack drink after their latest job. The killer also tries his hand at Bobo, unsuccessfully, and escapes after failing. This was clearly the work of a pro; it seems there’s more to their assignment than had previously met the eye.

Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) is a humorless DC cop whose dirty partner, Greely, happened to be Jimmy’s latest target; Greely apparently picked the wrong time to try to get into the blackmail business. Jimmy and Taylor meet-cute during his investigation and don’t originally plan to team up; that changes when Jimmy saves the out-of-towner from being killed by some dirty cops. The unlikely duo start a journey to the truth, with a few bumps along the way, and Taylor turns a momentary blind eye to Jimmy’s need for vengeance.

The bad guys in Bullet to the Head, protagonist included, are dead-on. Stallone’s granite exterior and gravelly snarl bring life to the shallow character of Jimmy Bobo, the good badguy. He looks like he’s been doing his thing ever since Rambo and has aged well, with some signs of wear. Jason Momoa makes for a convincing sociopath as the bad badguy, Keegan, a bloodthirsty gun for hire. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is well cast as the chief shithead, awkward as it will be to see LOST’s Mr. Eko as a gimpy scumbag. Kang as Kwon? He’s either a shitty, bland actor or a great actor who brilliantly portrays a shitty, bland character.

This is not the type of movie that will have too many people on the fence about seeing it. The trailer will likely inspire eye rolls for some and hard-ons for homicide in others. I doubt anyone heading to see Bullet is envisioning a masterpiece; they’re coming for the titular violence and staying for the wisecracks. The key to enjoying this movie, and others like it, is being upfront with yourself about what you’re really going to see and why.

Bullet to the Head is good at what it does; you just have to figure out if you’re interested in what it offers. Want a polished script with solid dialogue? Stay home. Looking to see Sly turn a bunch of wiseguys’ heads into Shamu’s Splash Zone? Take a ride on the Bullet train.

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