When a movie has a title like Bullet to the Head, you know heading into the theater whether you're the target audience or not. And rest assured, the title doesn't lie. There are many bullets fired into people's melons. Beyond that, the good news is that this latest bloody slice of shoot-'em-up sadism from veteran action director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hrs.), and adapted from a French graphic novel is a better outing than Sylvester Stallone fans have come to expect lately. He's sharper and funnier than he's been in ages.
Inked up with a fresco of tattoos that fan out across his impressively ripped 66-year-old deltoids, Stallone plays Jimmy Bobo a loner Louisiana hitman who's double-crossed by some colorfully shady Big Easy businessmen, played by Lost's Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and a weaselly Christian Slater. Since those same dudes also killed the partner of an idealistic cop named Taylor Kwon (Fast Five's Sung Kang), Bobo and Kwon team up looking for payback. Their methods may be different Kwon wants to bust the bad guys by the book; Bobo wants to slice and dice his way up the food chain but their common cause makes them the sort of bickering, buddy-movie odd couple that Hill served up 30 years ago with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy. The mumbly badass Bobo tosses off casually racists jokes about Kwon's Asian background, calling him ''Confucius'' and ''Oddjob.'' And Kwon makes fun of Bobo's long-in-the-tooth aches and pains. During a guns-drawn Mexican standoff between the two, Stallone says, ''Make up your mind, my f-in' arm's getting tired''.
All of that said, Bullet to the Head's real business is killing. And business appears to be good. Especially in the film's climactic showdown in an abandoned warehouse, where Stallone and Conan the Barbarian's Jason Momoa, who plays Slater and Akinnuoye-Agbaje's henchman, square off with firefighters' axes. It's preposterous, of course. Even Stallone acknowledges that much (''What are we, f---in' Vikings?''). But the violently crunchy set piece is so over-the-top and well shot that resistance becomes futile.
I don't know how much say Stallone had in choosing Hill as Bullet to the Head's director. But the choice was, I think, a wise one. In films like The Long Riders, Streets of Fire, and Trespass, Hill has always shown a flair for the kind of retro macho mayhem a movie like this runs on like fossil fuel. Hill gets precisely what reserves of capital and good will Stallone has left with his fanbase and he knows exactly how to exploit the hell out of it. Bullet to the Head doesn't try to adapt its star to 2013. It just pretends that we're still living in 1986. And for 91 minutes, it just about works. B