When I showed up for a matinee over the weekend, the only other people in the theater were two older guys sitting in the back row. While I sat near the front, waiting for the trailers to start, I heard them talking.
Guy 1: I wonder why there aren’t more people here?
Guy 2: It’s ‘cause Stallone isn’t too popular anymore. Now it’s all about The Rock.
Guy 1: The Rock?
Guy 2: Yeah, Dwayne Johnson.
Guy 1: Oh, the Rock!
Guy 2: Yeah, and Jason Statham, too.
So, there you have it. That’s the state of the modern action star in a nutshell. There are the younger guys (relatively speaking) who get by on their charisma and the occasional good script. And then there’s the old guys trying to make movies that comment ever so slightly on their age while still allowing them to go around kicking just as much butt as they used to. Just a couple weeks ago there was 65-year-old Schwarzenegger as the nearly retired sheriff in The Last Stand who, when kicked through the glass door of a bar, answered a “How are you?” with “Old.” Now in Bullet to the Head, 66-year-old Stallone holds a gun on a man and asks to settle their disagreement quickly because “my arm’s getting tired.” It’s a nice wink to reality, I suppose, as is the scene where the interloping cop ogles a tattoo artist (Sarah Shahi) and mentions her looks to the old man who responds, “She’s my daughter.”
Endless expository dialogue like that gem makes up most of the scenes. Hill fills the New Orleans-set film with local color atmospherics, joylessly bloody violence, and executes every dull twist of Alessandro Camon’s script with sturdy professionalism that does nothing to bring any interest as it slowly and inevitably crawls from one predictable beat to the next. It is as lumbering an anachronism as Stallone himself, a gravely, stiff attempt to revive a sort of slicked back, pumped up, flippantly bombastic violence machine of a movie of a kind that was none too enjoyable in the first place. The Expendables movies manage to more or less pull off this trick by A) inviting the next generation (Statham, Hemsworth, Adkins) to join the macho 80’s reunion and B) having a decent sense of how silly the whole thing is in the first place.
Bullet to the Head is self-serious blunt force cheese that follows its lead’s lead, a character who grimly shoots down anyone and everyone who is a threat or who has wronged him, always knowing the right place to go, always a step ahead, and always acting like a jerk about it. He’s constantly firing condescending, usually racist, remarks at Kang as punchline punctuations. He’s constantly cruel and we’re supposed to cheer. After blasting away a helpless captive, Kang says that one isn’t to do stuff like that. Stallone’s response? “I just did.” It’s not funny, but also not surprising. But in a movie with so much backwards, reductive, dusty dumbness to rankle and irritate, its biggest crime is how boring and predictable it is. I went into the theater wide awake in the middle of the day and I soon felt myself wishing I could take a nap and wake up after the movie was over. It would’ve been a more productive use of my time.