BULLET TO THE HEAD (15)
LAST week Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to the big screen with a bang, demonstrating that he has no intention of growing old gracefully.
His muscle-bound rival, Sylvester Stallone, who will be 67 years old in July, attempts the same feat in Walter Hill’s relentlessly violent thriller.
Based on graphic novel Du Plomb Dans La Tete, Bullet To The Head is testosterone-fuelled and peppered with bone-crunching action sequences that allow the leading man to play to his strengths: grimace, flex his muscles and growl an array of one-liners without a flicker of emotion.
The explosions and splatter promised by the title are disappointingly thin on the ground, leaving us wanting far more than either Hill or screenwriter Alessandro Camon deliver.
Bruising fights almost get our adrenaline pumping but the narrative is flimsy and the characters are poorly sketched, so there is no compelling reason to invest emotions in Stallone’s tortured hero as he embarks on his suicidal crusade for vengeance.
“Here’s the story – this is the way it went down,” confides tattooed hit man Jimmy Bobo (Sylvester Stallone) shortly before he and partner Louis Blanchard (Jon Seda) kill a corrupt ex-cop as instructed.
They celebrate in a New Orleans bar, where hulking assassin Keegan (Jason Momoa) stabs Louis and badly injures Jimmy in a furious bathroom brawl.
Hungry for revenge, Jimmy tracks down people in the criminal food chain who could have betrayed him and Louis.
All paths seem to lead to a powerful property developer, Robert Nkomo Borel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).
Meanwhile, strait-laced detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), who is out of his Washington DC jurisdiction, arrives in New Orleans to apprehend Jimmy.
The two men are forced to work together when Jimmy’s daughter Lisa (Sarah Shahi) is abducted by Keegan and held hostage in a cavernous warehouse that provides the film with a familiar setting for the final showdown.
Kwon’s adherence to the rules jars with Jimmy’s disregard for authority, and the unlikely partners bicker incessantly.
“You don’t kill a guy like that!” gasps the cop after Jimmy pulls the trigger on a high-ranking figure.
“I just did,” barks the hit man coldly.
Bullet To The Head splutters and wheezes through 91 uninspired minutes, putting Stallone through the physical wringer in well-choreographed skirmishes.
A couple of one-liners elicit a wry smile, such as when Keegan invites Jimmy to take part in a duel with battle axes and he quips, “What are we, Vikings?!”
However, most of the dialogue falls flat and the final act falters in the total absence of any genuine concern from Stallone’s hit man about the well-being of his beloved daughter.
Kang enjoys a few fist fights, while Christian Slater savours a cameo as a sleazy middleman who discovers that crossing Jimmy comes at a hefty price.
STAR RATING: **
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (12A)
PRESIDENT Franklin Roosevelt prepares to welcome King George VI and his wife Elizabeth to America. Feverish media interest is glimpsed through the eyes of Daisy (Laura Linney), who describes herself as fifth or sixth cousin to the president. Living in obscurity with her aunt (Eleanor Bron), Daisy is unexpectedly summoned to the side of the 32nd president (Bill Murray) in the hope that she can take his mind off the hoopla surrounding the British royals (Samuel West, Olivia Colman). Amid the whirl of activity, Daisy develops a close bond to Franklin and they become lovers. However, Daisy isn’t Franklin’s only means of distraction and she must learn to share the man in power with others in his inner social circle.
STAR RATING: ***