All the ’80s action stars are back, but as what?
Hell, even Justin Timberlake is back. But every time he comes back, his song is about how he’s back with a thing that we didn’t even know he had. His charm was always that he is the only guy who could both class up a dingy house party and get a fancy soiree to get down with its bad self. I mean, we’re glad to have you back, Justin, and that song is dope and all, but the suit-and-tie shit is not why we loved your shit in the first place. Shit.
And so it is with the re-rise of the ’80s action star. They’re back, but as what?
Arnold is back as the impossibly muscular, Austrian-accented, American cop to critical acclaim but box office failure. Bruce is back in a series as improbably successful as McClane’s own adventures. And Stallone is back as the … sarcastic assassin with a warped sense of honor? Huh.
Bullet to the Head tells the story of aging, New Orleans-based mob hit man “Jimmy Bobo.” After a routine assignment ends disastrously—with Bobo’s partner killed—he finds himself teamed up with D.C.-based detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), who is after the same people that set Bobo up. The case leads them through the bottom rung of the New Orleans underworld, through the murky depths of politics and police corruption. Along the way, they meet Bobo’s tattoo artist, med school dropout daughter, trade racist jabs, and go back and forth as to whether or not cops and hit men can ever be on the same team.
It’s ’Rush Hour’ meets ‘Gran Torino’ meets ‘Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.’
Sly may be playing against type in the role, but the movie is familiar territory for him. We’re talking about the man behind some of the greatest bad movies of all time, like Demolition Man and Rocky IV.
After all, the fun of Rocky IV is imagining an actual human being with a brain going, “Yep, that’s what this movie needs: a robot butler.”
The movie shines when it gets gleefully out of control. A bathhouse brawl, a hilarious interrogation of Christian Slater, and some spiky conversations between the unlikely partners are highlights. But just when it seems like things are going to get crazy, they get inexplicably reined in (thanks to uneven direction from Walter Hill, the man who practically defined urban grit with The Warriors).
But the movie constantly confuses the opportunity for joyous insanity with the insanity itself.
Racially tinged conversations between old-fashioned Bobo and Korean-American super-cop Kwon don’t confront and subvert stereotypes as much as they think they do, and aren’t funny enough to justify them being in the film at all. Supposed badass Keegan is big and kills a lot of people, but he’s not all that intimidating or fun to watch in action.
So what does that leave us with? Arnold’s The Last Stand was a critical success that bombed, pretty much the opposite of his ’80s career. Bruce’s Die Hard 5 is likely to be an okay, if obnoxious, flick that will do extremely well, which is pretty much the only kind of movie Bruce makes anymore. And Bullet to the Head is a mixed bag that misunderstands its lead character’s appeal, lives up to some expectations and leaves others unrealized, and is distracting enough for 90 minutes (which is also a great description of every Rocky/Rambo sequel).
All in all, a wash.
Let’s see how the rest of JT’s album turns out before we completely write off 2013 comebacks.
BULLET TO THE HEAD | R | WIDE RELEASE 2.1.13