Bullet to the Head: (A Movie Review)
I should start by saying, that I do believe that Bullet to the Head is meant to be, what was called, in the 1970s, an exploitation film. The term "exploitation" has a very specific meaning. An exploitation film is cinema that consciously does not aim to be great art; the exploitation film deliberately lowers the bar, where "art" is concerned. Such a movie spares no time for nuance or complexity.
The characters are distilled down to their most bare-boned functional essence. If a character is a cop, barber, accountant, teacher, lawyer, trapeze artist, paramedic, dog groomer, or what have you, the characters are quintessentially that and very little more. There is no or a minimal amount of personalization and individualization necessary, or wanted. The role of the characters are to be what they are only to the extent necessary to move the plot along.
Nuance, complexity, and even authenticity are sacrificed to the cause of speed, of telling a fast-paced tale. What narrative story there is functions more like a delivery system for high-octane, adrenaline-stirring action, adventure, and thrills. That is how its supposed to work out in theory.
If you look above, at the picture of one of the promotional images of the film, you can tell a lot about what its supposed to be about, even before you see the film, should you decide to do that.
1. The title of the film is "Bullet to the Head." I can report that the film rather delivers what it promises; but note how very meager the promise is, which goes back to that "low-set bar" thing I mentioned earlier.
2. We see a muscular Sylvester Stallone, with his shirt off.
3. He has a bunch of tattoos all over his shoulders.
4. Mr. Stallone seems to be holding a firearm.
5. Mr. Stallone has an expression on his face, which is meant to be angry, ferocious, and menacing.
6. There is a little blurb saying, "Revenge Never Gets Old."
7. If those of you who have not yet seen the film, are guessing that an angry, ferocious, and menacing Sylvester Stallone, with his muscles, tattoos, and firearms in tow, means to take bloody retribution against a party or parties unknown, you all have shown admirable prescience.
I must say that this film is unintentionally hilarious in several respects. One scarcely knows where to start. But seriously folks, this film has profound structural problems, even granting it "exploitation" status; because, as you know, some exploitation films are better than others.
I. This film is structurally flawed. By that, I mean, the very plot hangs on an untenable contradiction.
First, let me give you the basic story, in brief. It seems that Stallone plays a contract assassin, who works for "scum," as his character puts it, taking out people "who are even worse." Stallone works with a partner, a younger fellow. They do a job, killing a former police detective cum low-level drug dealer and addict.
After the job, someone tries to kill the assassin pair. He manages to liquidate Stallone's partner, but Stallone, of course, gets away. Stallone's character seems to be vaguely sad about that turn of events; but on the other hand, the dead partner went into the business with his eyes wide open, as it were, about the hazards of the job.
Otherwise, Stallone seems to be inclined to lay low.
A young and very good-looking Asian-American homicide detective flies in to the city. He has an interest in the case. You see, the dead cop cum drug dealer, was his former partner. The two worked together for six years.
Note: I feel compelled to mention, here, that the young man who plays the Asian-American police detective is a very good looking young man. He is so good looking, in a "metrosexual" way, that I would go so far as to call him beautiful, which is a word I don't use very often for men.
He is beautiful in a male model way. In fact, I shall henceforth refer to that character as the Male Model---capitalized, of course.
Okay, back to the story. Almost immediately after coming into the city and zipping by the morgue to have a look at the two bodies, with some other cops in suits standing around, the Male Model contacts Stallone, the contract killer
What on Earth for?
Well, for now, just let's say that he has found out that one of the dead bodies, the other killer, was Stallone's partner.
Yes, but why did the Male Model contact Stallone the Killer?
Are you sitting down?
Well, the Male Model wants to talk to the Killer (I shall heretofore refer to Stallone's character as the Killer, also capitalized), exchange information, and suggest that the two of them "work together," to find out what in "Sam Hill" is going on and so forth.
I'm not kidding. The Male Model thinks that he, the police detective, and the Killer, that twenty-six times arrested and twice convicted, professional assassin, who works for "scum," taking out people who are "even worse," ought to work together---as an investigative team or something---to, I suppose, identify and apprehend the villains.
It happens. The Male Model and the Killer join forces.
Does the phrase "conflict of interest" cross your mind? We'll examine this later on. First, let's get a few more details.
II. This film was spectacularly miscast.
I'm thinking primarily of the Male Model detective. He is beautiful, as I said. But he is also very young, perhaps a third of the age of the Killer (Stallone).
If this movie had to be made (and it is not at all clear that it needed to be), the role of the good guy cop should have been played by the burly young man, who played the other contract killer, who is the film's bad guy because he works for the villain of the film.
The film's villain is a character of mustache-twirling pedigree, who revels in his black-hat evil; and the only reason he does not actually twirl his mustache in evil revelry is because he does not have a mustache.
I think the Killer's role would have been far better served by Jason Stratham or somebody like that.
III. The parts do not work as they are supposed to.
Here's what I mean by that. The Male Model's character is not strong enough, in temperament, to match the Killer's older, more self-assured, and experienced presence, if you know what I mean. The Male Model turns out to be rather useless for most of the movie, unless he is doing the Smartphone/computer geek thing.
Let's go back to the morgue scene, when the Male Model just gets into the city and checks in with the local precinct.
Here come's one of the unintentionally hilarious parts.
The Male Model spends that time, at the morgue, in his Miami Vice/GQ blazer, walking around with one hand in his pocket and his ear glued to his Smartphone---used for police business, of course.
When he and the Killer are out on the field, the Male Model's role is primarily limited to calling the precinct for a "make" on the various caricatures they come across.
The Male Model does that, looks up whatever else he need to look up on his phone; and he starts salivating every time he gets near a PC, and gets on that to punch more buttons and look up stuff. Oh and by the way, when the Killer mentions the Male Model's obsession with his phone, the beautiful detective actually says, out loud, "I couldn't do my job without it." His Smartphone.
When they come across individuals who may know something about the situation, the Killer wants to question them, in his inimitable way, which is to say, forcefully encourage them to divulge what they know.
Every time the Killer does this, the Male Model invariably wrings his hands, furrows his brows, gnashes his teeth, and even lowers that beautiful voice of his, to protest, weakly and ineffectively.
You see, the Male Model finds himself reduced to a position of utter impotency in this "partnership" because the Killer had made it clear, from the start, that they were going to do this thing "my way" or not at all. And, apparently, the Male Model had no other options. However, it is not clear why he apparently makes that assumption from the start.
IV. The glaring logic problem.
I don't usually obsess about problems of logic or continuity in films. If I am enjoying myself, or am intrigued in some way, I am very forgiving of anything that needs to be forgiven. But here's the thing with Bullet to the Head.
This turns out to be one of those "trust no one" films. And that turns out to certainly be the case with the police precinct the Male Model visits. But he does not know that to start with. His actions presuppose it but he clearly does not know that.
One might ask himself: Why is the Male Model detective's first inclination to seek out a professional hit man, an oft-arrested felon as an investigative partner? What's wrong with all those detectives at the police precinct he has checked into? (They are, perhaps, mostly murderously corrupt as they turn out to be; but the Male Model does not know that).
In fact, the Male Model joins up with the Killer immediately. He goes weeks without physically checking in at the station, not because he "trusts no one" at that station. You see, the Male Model, armed with his Smartphone, essentially telecommutes.
When he finally calls into to the office, it comes as something as a surprise to the captain.
Anyway, after a while, the Male Model wants to meet with the captain, to fill him in on the developments in the case. They talk in the captain's car, for some reason. The Male Model never suspects that anything at all might be amiss until the very moment the captain pulls a pistol on the beautiful investigator, with the intention of shooting him to death.
But not to worry, the Killer intervenes, popping up out of nowhere to save the Male Model's life---and not for the first time.
The Killer had been lurking around because he had figured that the villain "might have other cops on his payroll."
But believe me, friends. The Male Model seeks out a partnership with the Killer before he can have any hint that anything at all is amiss at the precinct.
As the pair ride around, having their adventures, with the Killer cracking heads and the Male Model taking notes on his phone, the beautiful investigator feels the need to periodically mumble something about having to bring the Killer to account for the crimes he's been committing during their "investigation."
"By the law," the Male Model declares with stiff upper lip.
One just has to ask: What did the Male Model ever imagine "working together" with a contract killer would entail?
Anyway, a lot of other stuff happens and then the film closes.
It turns out that as a reward for all the "help" the Killer gave the Male Model in concluding this really, really, really big case, as Ed Sullivan would say, the beautiful investigator decides not to arrest Sylvester Stallone after all.
The beautiful investigator decides not to arrest the Killer for crimes he committed in the past. "But," the Male Model says sternly, "if you step out of line again, and I hear about it, you're going down."
Seriously, the Male Model actually said that: "...and I hear about it, you're going down."
That line was hilarious. I almost fell out of my chair.
Who is he going to call on his Smartphone to take "down" the killer?
And with that, I shall take my leave.
Thank you for reading.
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