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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience. MOBILE: |
. "Bullet to the Head"

If you're a 66-year old action hero who wants to continue your legacy despite the years on your bones, you'll do exactly what Silvester Stallone (as arch criminal James Bonomo) does here: get a top action director like Walter Hill ("Prometheus"), who can tout an action packed credit list. Then hire a screenwriter like Alessandro Camon who will adapt Alexis Nolent's French graphic novel ("Du plomb dans la tete"), set it in Washington, DC, and make certain that your power and stamina are never questioned by the plot or the dialogue.

If you're a fan of violent action, from pre-teen to old crank, you're likely to enjoy the concept that puts a killer and a cop together for their mutual need to exact revenge on the killers of their respective partners. But it presents problems, particularly in the writing department.

Two things about this teamup idea, like how do you reconcile such an unlikely alliance with reality? Toward that effort, Detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang, "Fast Five") is constantly threatening Bonomo with a day of reckoning ("when this is all over") for an assortment of eviscerations and other bloody murders being witnessed as the plot rolls on.

The second issue is casting actor Kang. He's a very likeable guy, sensitive, gentle and attractive, more charming than convincing and, he's no match on any level for the action hero. Casting him raises suspicion that Stallone (and, of course, director Hill) had their reasons -- like guaranteeing the star never gets upstaged by the guy playing the "buddy" role.

On the other hand, casting Jason Momoa ("Conan the Barbarian," 2011, Khal Drogo in cable's "Game of Thrones") to play merciless mob assassin Keegan, is an inspired choice. He's a foot taller than Sly, and capable of slinging a person around like a parade leader manipulates a baton. Perfect. There'll always be place for an actual super human like him in Hollywood. And... just wait for these two to meet in combat.

While I can't give any of that away, let's just say it's a highlight for those who buy tickets for "Bullet to the Head." Anyone's appetite for violence and brute force will have them leaving the lobby satisfied on that count.

Hill isn't apologetic about using great portions of fantasy to deliver that satisfaction, like having one lone bad guy wipe out a roomful of armed thugs with a pair of handguns. The only time I've seen this work with a shred of credibility was when Clint Eastwood did it in "Unforgiven." Otherwise, it's just a way for a director to get a job done and move the story along.

The highlight of the film, for me, is the supreme confidence of gunman Keegan, with his bemused reaction to James' vow to kill him. He's just licking his chops for the opportunity to give the muscleman a chance. Being killed by anybody is a joke to this virtual giant of psychopathic deadliness. He kills like he's swatting flies. And Bonomo is just a bigger one than most.

Sarah Shahi as the feisty and beautiful female interest Lisa Bonomo, James' daughter, is a plus factor throughout. And, talking about lightweights in a cast of characters like this, Christian Slater is Marcus Baptiste, a name that doesn't fit him any more than the strong impression he makes among the heavyweights in the yarn. He plays spineless and corrupt well, however, as the part dictates.

Stallone always comes off to me as someone with an ego big enough to register as a subtext to whatever script puts him into motion -- and age isn't mellowing that factor. He walks like he's on exhibit. While self-adulation and protecting your brand is common to actors of the genre, it just seems especially pervasive with Sly (and consistent with cast and crew chatter one hears about his domination of his sets). Some guys are just less promotional about their bulk... like, say, Momoa. But, then, Mr. M just doesn't need to pump up what nature has given him. Lucky guy.

The cop-criminal alliance is too absurd to conquer with words, however skillfully crafted. But probability isn't the issue here and the action is a promise met for the fan base.

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  
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