Hill is one of the all-time greats. His somewhat slim resume might belie such a claim, but let's look at the movies he's responsible for: “48 Hrs.,” “The Warrirors,” “The Driver,” “Streets of Fire,” “Hard Times,” and heck, I'll even toss “Last Man Standing” in there (though it's not on the level of most of the aforementioned films). In other words, when it comes to tough guy, no-nonsense action flicks with a unique personality, Hill was a master, able to communicate character through action, a rare trait from a director treading in such a genre.
It's also a bit hazardous considering how significantly the action genre has evolved in time since Hill last directed a film. The genre was already heavily leaning toward overly-choreographed, digitally-enhanced action, making Hill's no-frills style seem that much more of an outlier, even back in 2002.
So here we have “Bullet to the Head,” his first movie in just over a decade. Has Hill managed to shake the cobwebs and deliver the goods? Yes and no.
On the one hand, as I iterated in my review of “The Last Stand,” it is so very refreshing to once see a movie done in this style, one that is lean, mean and gets right down to the business of bullets and blood fast and efficiently. Unfortunately, it comes across as somewhat generic, but never cripplingly so.
Stallone plays Jimmy, a hitman who gets double-crossed, leaving his partner, Louis (Jon Seda) dead and himself thirsty for some payback. He's joined in his search by an out-of-town police detective, Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), who's anxious to find out who ordered Johnny and Louis to kill his ex-partner.
Purely in terms of visceral stimuli, “Bullet to the Head” succeeds. The shootouts, beatdowns and general mayhem are quick, dirty and to the point. Each punch to the face, head slam, elbow to the ribs and (wait for it), yes, bullet to the head lands with the sort of impact and force that has been decidedly missing from action movies for quite some time.
And it's all done with a minimum of digital blood, a (mostly) steady camera and an editing style that won't give you epileptic fits. Although, the climactic axe battle between Jimmy and Keegan is a bit too chopped up (heh) for my taste, in terms of editing, at least.
The film's biggest problem is that the script doesn't really do anyone any favors. There's just not much there in terms of character and each lead's motivation for getting neck-deep into this situation comes across as perfunctory at best.
Stallone at least still has the requisite tough-guy presence to pull off an aged hitman. He's consistent, if nothing else. The same goes for Momoa, who seems to be having a blast playing the devilishly brutal Keegan with a sly, knowing grin carved into his visage for most of the runtime.
It's Kang who gets the short end of the stick. He's barely given anything to do and spends at least half of the movie doing little more than calling in for speed checks on criminals so he can spout background information and exposition. It makes me wonder why he's in the film at all given how little his character matters in the grand scheme of things.
The good news is that at a brief 97 minutes, Hill moves things along at such a fast clip and keeps the action hitting hard enough that those deficiencies barely have time to register before the credits roll.
“Bullet to the Head” could have been a lot worse. I know that's sort of a back-handed compliment, but it's true. At the very least it shows that Hill still possibly has something to add to the current cinematic landscape now that he's had a warm-up time back at bat.