In many ways Bullet to the Head is as ludicrous as you would expect. A heavily tattooed Sylvester Stallone and Conan beefcake Jason Momoa arm themselves with axes for a fight. Christian Slater's sleazy lawyer character hosts a giant sexy party in his Garden District mansion complete with nude ladies doing the tango and Slater himself wearing a fox mask that's a little too on the nose. There's a corrupt real estate baron from Africa played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who uses not one but two canes and plans to demolish the "ghetto housing projects" in New Orleans to build sweet new condos or whatever.
And all of the women that appear in the film — all of them that have any lines and plenty that don't say a word — show their breasts at one time or another evenSarah Shahi playing Stallone's daughter Lisa. Stallone's character is nicknamed Jimmy Bobo and he brings his own bottle of bourbon with him when he goes to bars — Bulleit of course.
However unlike more recent action films like Jack Reacher or Stallone's endless Expendables Bullet to the Head is a pleasing solid genre flick. Part of the appeal along with the impressive fight scenes and laughably elaborate set-ups is that the film knows when it's being silly. "What are we f**king Vikings?" Stallone bellows right before he and Momoa come to blows. Slater is a perfectly ratty little lawyer who when tied to a chair and being threatened with bodily harm sneers "There's nothing you can do to men that I haven't done to myself for fun!"
Stallone gets the best lines usually tossed-off phrases like suggesting someone's bullet wounds could be fixed up with "a band-aid and a blow pop " but he's also saddled with some of the worst. His interactions with his reluctant partner a handsome cop named Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) slow the movie down to a glacier's pace. One might imagine that director Walter Hill is trying to recall the dicey racial tension in the 48 Hrs. movies between Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte but it doesn't translate here at all. Jimmy Bobo's ribbing of Taylor isn't just unfunny it's boring. There's nothing particularly clever about any of the written jokes about tea leaves Confucius samurai and so forth; while Kang's character is supposed to be annoyed by this "banter " it looks like Kang himself isn't all that thrilled.
Bullet to the Head is no masterpiece let's be clear. Plunking down Stallone et al. in New Orleans creates a cognitive dissonance that's laughable at best. Momoa who plays a vicious mercenary looks hilariously out of place in the redneck bar we first see him in; he's really born to play characters like Khal Drago in Game of Thrones where he just has to ride a horse and look like a dangerous-but-sexy warrior. People seem impossible to kill; often it takes you know a bullet to the head to finally keep 'em down. And that daughter of Jimmy's Sarah? She is a tattoo artist with one year of medical school under her belt so she's pretty swell when it comes to basic medical procedures. Like bullet removal.
But let's go back to all those boobies. This is an R-rated movie with plenty of violence and drugs and nudity and that is fine by me. I do not mind looking at good-looking naked people not in the least. When the first character we meet is a prostitute who is merely referred to as a hooker for a good chunk of the movie and that's really one of the only female characters we meet that's a problem. When Lisa's mom is referred to as a dead hooker junky that's a trend.
And when Lisa is lounging in the bathtub and Taylor breaks into her house for well whatever reason he and Jimmy came up with and she runs into him in her living room when she's wearing nothing but a towel and we can see her butt and breasts it makes me scratch my head a little.
Look this is an action movie and one based on a comic book to boot so I'm not expecting Tennessee Williams here but give me a break.
There were probably some women at the Garden District party who were clothed but the great majority of women in the movie are naked and/or referred to as totally disposable which is a frankly sickening trend in an otherwise enjoyable movie. It would have been better to leave all of the female characters on the cutting room floor and be done with it than treat them with such matter-of-fact contempt.
Sadly this gross undercurrent knocks my original star rating down a half.
Bullet to the Head is not a summer blockbuster but it's better than the typical January dregs. Spring can't come soon enough.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.