On a functional level, I appreciate a film that comes out swinging, presenting itself as nothing more than exactly what it is, like when The Monkees sing "Hey Hey We're The Monkees." So when the first image you see is a giant bullet flying at your face, breaking through a succession of production company logos, you say to yourself, out loud because there's nobody else in the theater with you and if there are they're already texting and probably don't care, "Ow. That giant bullet. It's in my head. Now the movie can begin."
And it does, with a prologue rumble-mumbled by contract killer/swamp person Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone). Very quickly, an unlucky terrible man who gets in Sly's way takes a bullet to the head. Then there's another prologue, Okay, now the movie can begin.
What's it about? Some bad guys. And some other bad guys. And some badder guys. And bullets to the head, as though through repetition of the title in action we're meant to finally understand the platonic ideal of how to murder a person with a gun. In the forehead, please, like real man, somewhat frail but no less ripped and sure of your sustained-through-the-decades appeal, trading as much as you can on vague Rambo-like memories of yourself. And if you can't cut it like that, if you can't properly bulletize heads the way kids with BB guns pick off empty cans on a fence, then you're probably going to wind up with one to the dome yourself. That's why, close to the end, when evil muscle-goon Jason Momoa (last year's would-be Conan 2) unwisely eschews the gun paradigm and decides to deliver the movie's first and last sequence with any spark of fighting life in the form of an ax battle, spinning his like a teenage majorette leading a parade, you know he's still going to lose to Sly because the movie isn't called Ax To the Face.
Fans of vintage action entertainments know that it isn't just Stallone's show here; director Walter Hill made some very cool films like The Driver, 48 Hours and The Warriors. As a team-up and shout-out to vintage 80s cement-brained violence, respect alone would dictate buying a ticket to this one. But that's before you learn that everything sandwiched in between the occasionally viscerally punchy violence involves Stallone imploring his plot-dictated cop-partner Sung Kang (Fast Five, from which this movie could learn all sorts of things about movement, pleasure, race and excitement) to pretty-please stop "busting [his] chops" so that he can, in response, drool out tons of moronically old-mannish anti-Asian taunts. It's before you realize that every moment spent with generic bad men in suits will necessitate a go-nowhere, lip-licking chat about "huge amounts of money." It's before your eyes glaze over at the repetitive nature of more bullets to more heads.
The effect is as dulling as if you were just staring at a wall, so much so that you'll be tempted to theater hop. Late last night, after buying my ticket and sitting through the first 40 minutes, I heard Anne Hathaway sing-dying in the next house through the badly-sound-proofed theater walls. And I was tempted. By Les Miserables. And that movie sucks.