Skip to main content

Are we gonna fight or are you planning on boring me to death?


 Bullet to the Head
 (2013)

Stallone’s attempt to get back in the game with an original starring vehicle appeared to flounder from the first. In the last decade he’s staged something of a career comeback with sequels to his best known roles (Rocky Balboa, Rambo) and a new franchise leading an ensemble of aging action stars (The Expendables). Bullet had the veneer of a Stallone aspiring to be relevant; an adaptation of a French graphic novel, a director (Wayne Kramer) who had previously delivered a surprisingly great crime movie fairy tale (Running Scared, which even managed to make Paul Walker look good). So how did it end up as an uninspired reheat of 48 Hrs’ mismatched cop/criminal pairing, complete with Walter Hill calling the shots?

The answer most likely lies somewhere in the creative tunnel vision of its producer Joel Silver and Sly. Stallone is fairly well-recognised as a nightmare for fledgling directors (poor Danny Cannon on Judge Dredd, for example). As a writer-director he has just enough talent to make life difficult for those without clout on set and, as a star, too much ego not to be a prima donna. Kramer reportedly clashed at a fairly early stage (he wanted a darker vision), so he was mercifully spared the traumas involved with Crossing Over (at the meddling hands of the Weinsteins). Silver, not the name he one was, but in full possession of the sensibility of his ‘80s/’90s self, also needed to make his presence felt.

The plot sees Stallone's hit man team up with Sung Kang's cop to bring down the gang who double-crossed Sly and killed his partner. Pretty much any '80s buddy action movie you can think of (48 Hrs, Red Heat, Tango & Cash) is vastly superior to this. At a meagre 90 minutes it is pared-down but looks as if there was never enough story to make a more substantial version. This is a perfunctory affair, competently made but going through the motions of what Sly thinks a Stallone action movie should probably be.

He looks ridiculously ripped for a 66 year old, with the kind of body only the best steroids can buy. Sly monotones his way through the entirely leaden dialogue and has zero chemistry with the charisma-free Kang (Han from the Fast and Furious movies). I'm not sure original choice Thomas Jane would have made matters a whole lot better, but Silver's decision to recast the role with an Asian actor seems to have been predicated on the lazy idea that racial tension would serve as a replacement for fleshed-out characters. So Stallone makes dodgy references to Confucius and Odd Job; there's no reason for this other than that Silver thinks he should be a bit like Nick Nolte (but on the other side of the law).

Hill handles the action as efficiently as you'd expect, but employs annoying visual clichés (a black and white introduction, orange-hued flashes and fades). A fairly annoying bluesy score also evokes an earlier era. The gratuitous nudity and violence cement the '80s throwback vibe, but the rain of CGI blood announces its true vintage. Hill had been absent from cinemas for a decade prior to this, and this kind of pointless exercise that makes you think he shouldn’t have bothered returning. He was no doubt considered a safe pair of hands as he’d delivered on the genre for Silver several times before (48 Hrs, Red Heat), but the result only goes to underline the question of why anyone thought it would be a good idea. It would be nice if this got Hill more work, but Bullet crumpled at the box office.

There's a suitably heavy-duty fight with fire axes between Stallone and Jason Momoa at the climax, and the latter has a good time playing the bad guy. As does Christian Slater as scumbag lawyer. But the script is so clumsy that Slater is required to tell Momoa the entire plot about 20 minutes in, even though he will be aware of this information anyway. The faux hardboiled dialogue is so consistently risible that there’s a point where you begin to assume it’s intentional.

Quite possibly Sly will have to settle on co-star status for the remainder of his career; he’s has pairings with Arnie (Escape Plan) and De Niro (Grudge Match) on the way, as well as Expendables 3. And Silver has nothing to aside from the Sherlock Holmes films as a claim to latter day success. Add to the pile the failure of Arnie’s comeback vehicle and, outside of the ensemble nostalgia flick, it looks like the ‘80s action movie star is well and truly dead.

** 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

Yeah, keep walking, you lanky prick!

Mute (2018)
(SPOILERS) Duncan Jones was never entirely convincing when talking up his reasons for Mute’s futuristic setting, and now it’s easy to see why. What’s more difficult to discern is his passion for the project in the first place. If the picture’s first hour is torpid in pace and singularly fails to muster interest, the second is more engaging, but that’s more down to the unappetising activities of Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s supporting surgeons than the quest undertaken by Alex Skarsgård’s lead. Which isn’t such a compliment, really.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?

Silkwood (1983)
Mike Nichol’s film about union activist Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances in a car accident in 1974, remains a powerful piece of work; even more so in the wake of Fukushima. If we transpose the microcosm of employees of a nuclear plant, who would rather look the other way in favour of a pay cheque, to the macrocosm of a world dependent on an energy source that could spell our destruction (just don’t think about it and, if you do, be reassured by the pronouncements of “experts” on how safe it all is; and if that doesn’t persuade you be under no illusion that we need this power now, future generations be damned!) it is just as relevant.