Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and (to a lesser extent) Bruce Willis seem eager to prove they can spearhead gratuitous action flicks with the same gusto they mustered in the 1980s and '90s. They're literally sticking to their guns regardless of Father Time's inconvenient intrusion.
And while Stallone's "The Expendables" (2010) served up some cheeky charm, the shtick has, frankly, grown old. It's borderline depressing, like watching a former high school football star with a paunchy gut and bum knees showcase skills that have long since waned. Willis has seen several recent actioners go straight to DVD, and Schwarzenegger's "The Last Stand" fell flat. Now it's Stallone's turn.
The title itself should deter viewers who favor smart cinema over mindless mayhem. Based on the French graphic novel "Du Plomb Dans La Tete" and set in New Orleans, the story (as it were) revolves around hired killer James Bonomo (Stallone) and his unlikely alliance with Washington, D.C., cop Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang of "Fast Five").
Kwon heads to The Big Easy to investigate the murder of his ex-partner; meanwhile, Bonomo is seeking his own answers following the brazen killing of his hitman cohort. When the two realize the deaths are linked, they grudgingly join forces to track down those responsible. They unearth a conspiracy that involves a real-estate mogul (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a socialite (Christian Slater) and a violent mercenary (Jason Momoa). Even Bonomo's tattoo-artist daughter (Sarah Shahi) is along for the bumpy ride.
Although Stallone lumbers his way through the film and appears half-asleep half the time, the man still has charisma and is occasionally sharp despite dull material. Kang struggles, his weak character made more so by an amateur performance. And while the odd-couple dynamic has its moments, they are few and far between. Shahi and Momoa are solid, but their characters are one-dimensional.
Director Walter Hill hasn't helmed a feature since 2002's "Undisputed," and it shows. Novice filmmaking techniques such as use of voiceover, flashbacks and erratic transitions become distracting and seem beneath the standards of a director with a decent resume ("The Warriors" and "48 Hrs.," among others). The cheesy hard-rock soundtrack screams "bad '80s action movie," and perhaps that was the goal all along.
But bad '80s action movies belong in the '80s. It's 2013, and the movie-going public deserves better than a "Bullet to the Head."