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'Bullet to the Head' a testosterone-laden throwback

12:00 PM, Feb. 1, 2013
Christian Slater, left, and Sylvester Stallone in a scene from 'Bullet to the Head.'
Christian Slater, left, and Sylvester Stallone in a scene from 'Bullet to the Head.' / Frank Masi/Warner Bros. Pictures

‘Bullet to the Head’

Rated: R for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use.
Star rating:★★★

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“Bullet to the Head” feels like the type of picture that doesn’t really get made anymore. An unapologetic rock-’em sock-’em rumble of exploding squibs and bourbon bottles, the film could just as easily have been titled “Guns, Boobs and Booze.”

And front and center is one of cinema’s manliest men: Rambo himself, Sylvester Stallone. “Bullet” sees the action star slipping into a comfortably gruff anti-hero mode as New Orleans hitman Jimmy Bobo, a long-in-the-tooth professional who takes out guys even badder than him. But he’s the likable kind of hitman, one that has a code: “No women, no children.”

Bobo and his partner Louis (Jon Seda) start the film by taking out a high-risk mark, which leads to Louis getting whacked by a mercenary madman named Keegan (Jason Momoa, a hulking brute some may recognize as Khal Drogo from “Game of Thrones”).

Enter Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), a straight-laced detective investigating the murder of his former partner (the very coke-snorting, hooker-loving man Jimmy and his partner took down). Burning to avenge his fallen partner, by-any-means-necessary Bobo teams up with by-the-rules Kwon to find the perpetrators responsible for the mayhem.

So far, so much dumb fun. If only the movie didn’t need to have a plot.

It’s not the kind of flick that needs much of a story, but the one it does have is, at times, borderline incomprehensible. There’s something about a corrupt police force, stolen evidence, a flash drive full of sensitive information and illicit-sounding condominium developments. It’s a virtual grab bag of action-film cliches, none of which are particularly interesting.

It’s not like the script needs to be much, just a series of guideposts that takes Bobo from one bad guy (and one bullet clip) to the next. But it doesn’t manage even that small task with much finesse.

While their conflicting moral codes at first give the two leads a comfortably familiar buddy-flick vibe, the dynamic between Bobo and Kwon quickly gets tiresome. How many jokes can you write about Bobo’s age and Kwon’s Asian heritage? Too many, it turns out.

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And just forget about any compelling female characters. It’s not a film that has much use for women -- they seem to have written in a daughter character just so the bad guys could have somebody to kidnap.

It’s disappointing, but you can’t pin the blame on director Walter Hill. It’s a rare script the Hollywood legend didn’t pen for himself (the blame in this case rests on screenwriter Alessandro Camon, who adapted the work from a French graphic novel). For his part, the famed action director (”48 Hrs.”) makes the most of the knuckledragging script by wringing a fun performance from a one-liner-spewing Stallone. And he livens the sometimes dull proceedings with an adrenaline shot of stunt-work-based action, culminating in a brutal ax battle between the film’s two chief beefcakes.

It’s good enough for a brainless night of fun at the movies, though your enjoyment might hinge on your nostalgia for old-fashioned dude movies, complete with a soundtrack of wailing electric-guitar solos and a wealth of random topless babes.

Unfortunately, it could have been a lot better if someone had taken out a hit on the script.

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