1:09 AM EST, January 31, 2013
Bullet to the Head
Like the amped up comeback tour of two rockers who had their heyday sometime in the mid-’80s, Sylvester Stallone and director Walter Hill (“48 HRS.,’’ ‘‘The Warriors’’) join forces for a hard-hitting exercise in beefy, brainless fun with the New Orleans-set actioner ‘‘Bullet to the Head.’’
Taking its B-grade scenario ’la lettre, this assassin-cop buddy movie aims to accomplish little more than delivering tons of kinetic wham-bam fight sequences and LOL one-liners, which Stallone recites from a face that seems literally frozen in time. Independently financed, ‘‘Bullet’’ should target decent crowds, especially abroad, though will play best on the small screen.
Adapted by Alessandro Camon (“The Messenger’’) from the French comic book series by Matz, the film shifts the setting from New York to New Orleans, though that location is never officially named — and, like many things in this fast and easy shoot ‘em up, such details don’t really matter.
An opening assassination scene, replete with a prostitute and lots of cocaine, introduces us to Jimmy Bobo (Stallone), a tired and heavily tattooed hitman who’s seen it all but still can pack a nasty punch. When Jimmy’s partner (Jon Seda) gets sliced up by a muscle-bound meathead (Jason Momoa) with expert mercenary skills, Jimmy vows revenge. He teams with an out-of-town detective, Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), who’s been sent to investigate the murder of his former partner — who turns out to be the very man Jimmy took down.
If this sounds complicated, it isn’t, and once those major plot points are dispatched with, ‘‘Bullet to the Head’’ dishes out 90 minutes of old-school mayhem, accompanied by plenty of comic banter between the aging thug and his Korean protege. It’s as if Stallone and Kang were swapped in for Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in yet another ‘‘Another 48 HRS.,’’ with Bobo showing Kwon the ropes while insulting his ethnic origins to no end, even if it’s clear we’re in bromance territory from the get-go.
After much face smashing, the two renegades eventually catch wind of a local conspiracy involving government contracts, converted condos and Christian Slater, who makes a short but fun cameo as a local sleazeball with a few zingers of his own. As is required in this sort of nuts-and-bolts material, all the characters wind up at an abandoned power plant, where the big showdown goes down with bullets and battleaxes and some more jokes from the peanut gallery.
We’re clearly in ‘‘Expendables’’ territory here, though unlike those rather drawn-out affairs, Hill keeps his movie lean and mean, cutting straight to the punch lines while administering violence in quick and crunching doses. Bobo refers more than once to his old age, but Stallone can still throw himself into a good fight (courtesy of stunt coordinator JJ Perry), though he’s more convincing kicking butt or dropping one-liners than when he’s garbling a voice-over.
The Louisiana-shot production doesn’t exactly do justice to its purported $55 million budget, though the locations are colorful and well-utilized, while the hard rock score by Steve Mazzaro fits this joyride perfectly. (R, 92 minutes)
— Jordan Mintzer, Hollywood Reporter
“Warm Bodies,’’ the latest permutation of the zombie screen phenomenon, places heart over horror and romantic teen angst over sharp social commentary. The low gore quotient and emphasis on young love might disappoint genre purists, but for those open to the idea of a gently goofy mash-up, the film is strong on atmosphere and offers likably low-key, if somewhat bland, charms. As a date movie for teens and twentysomethings that nods toward edgy fantasy while favoring down-to-earth mellowness, the Summit release is primed to hit the box-office sweet spot.
Working from Isaac Marion’s young-adult novel, writer-director Jonathan Levine has devised a feature that’s his highest-concept production to date, yet still somehow his least contrived. His affinity for low-key male coming-of-age stories, demonstrated in ‘‘The Wackness’’ and ‘‘50/50,’’ lends itself to the saga of an undead sensitive guy who falls for a real-live girl.
The story’s dystopian versions of Romeo and Juliet are Nicholas Hoult’s R — he can’t remember his full name, or anything else about his pre-apocalypse existence — and Teresa Palmer’s Julie, whose meet-cute involves a shoot-’em-up that ends badly for Julie’s duty-bound boyfriend (Dave Franco). As R’s voice-over narration explains, it’s been eight years since an unspecified plague devastated humankind. Corpses, as the slacker-ish zombies are called and of which he’s one, feed on what’s left of the living. A more extreme mutation called Boneys — skeletal creatures that are an effective but not quite menacing combination of stunt work and CGI — will eat anything, including corpses.
The gore is suggested rather than explicit, mostly via the blood-smeared lips of R, who’s given to snacking on brains. It’s a form of nourishment that gives him access to the dead’s memories, presented in scenes that fill in backstory, but don’t entirely make sense in terms of point of view.
Julie helps to defend the humans’ walled-off Green Zone as a member of the militia organized by her widowed father (John Malkovich). She winds up on the other side of the wall after a smitten R saves her from his fellow corpses and spirits her back to his home base, an abandoned airport that’s key among the movie’s superb Montreal locations.
In the jet that R has turned into a collector’s paradise of retro tchotchkes, including vintage vinyl and a working turntable, the two stare at each other and try to converse, with R’s vocabulary of grunts gradually giving way to the language he’d almost forgotten. Before long, they’re grooving to album cuts like Bruce Springsteen’s ‘‘Hungry Heart’’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘‘Shelter From the Storm’’ — songs that are no less enjoyable here for being transparently on-the-nose. There’s an exuberant sweetness to the material’s nostalgic slant that goes beyond thrift-shop memorabilia, binding millennial yearning to boomer pop-culture soulfulness.
The portrait of adolescent alienation touches glancingly on degrees of conformity, but writer-director Jonathan Levine has no interest in crossing into the political-allegory territory of George Romero’s zombie classics. Here the ennui sometimes seeps into the narrative in a way that leaves stretches of the movie enervated and galumphing like a corpse.
As far as the latter goes, Hoult’s shuffling zombie perambulation is particularly good, as is his facial expressiveness in scenes where R is essentially preverbal.
Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (whose credits include ‘‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona,’’ ‘‘The Others’’ and two ‘‘Twilight’’ features) uses widescreen, long shots and a blue-gray palette to heighten the wasteland feel. From newspaper headlines to street art by Shepard Fairey, Martin Whist’s production design is a frozen-in-time cityscape waiting to be thawed.
But when the central characters’ love jump-starts that thawing, the movie grows less evocative and more heavy-handed, pounding home its theme of engagement over passivity to the brink of Hollywood malarkey. Flavorful song choices aside, the music score likewise veers toward the sentimental. At its best, ‘‘Warm Bodies’’ paints a dead zone’s slow awakening with gloomy giddiness, brimming with visual humor. (PG-13, 97 minutes)
— Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters in 3-D
This version of the fairy tale recasts brother and sister (Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton) as bounty hunters. Surely it’s only a matter of time before the release of "Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer." (PG-13, 88 minutes)
— From wire reports
Three kids search the Internet to discover the most banned movie in the world. (It should have been "Rock of Ages.") (R, 97 minutes)
— From wire reports
This plays like the bloodiest promotional video ever made for Palm Beach tourism. Stabbings, explosions and furniture-smashing brawls occur at some of the ritziest locations within the sun-splashed, pastel-soaked slab of Florida opulence. The city is the setting for a $50 million jewel heist as well as revenge. Jason Statham stars as Parker, a thief who lives by a civilized, self-imposed code — one he expects others to adhere to, as well. Director Taylor Hackford’s rather perfunctory action film is actually more compelling before it even gets to Palm Beach, as Parker makes his way from Ohio to Texas to New Orleans before reaching his final destination. (R, 118 minutes)
— From wire reports
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The Last Stand, Zero Dark Thirty, Gangster Squad.