Walter Hill's "Bullet to the Head" takes its title so seriously that practically everyone who dies in this movie -- and that's a fair chunk of New Orleans' population -- winds up with a slug planted neatly between the eyes.
That makes this action thriller just about as brainless as the cadavers left in the wake of a hit man's quest for revenge against the people who killed his partner and tried to knock him off as well.
"Bullet in the Head"★ ½
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Sarah Shahi, Christian Slater, Jason Momoa
Directed by: Walter Hill
Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated R for drug use, language, nudity and violence. 97 minutes
The hit man, Jimmy Bobo, is played by Sylvester Stallone, who at this point in his career (he's 66), is beginning to resemble Frankenstein's monster more than a professional New Orleans assassin.
His unnaturally arched eyebrows are pasted to his forehead right above those trademark sleepy-time eyes. His lips protrude in a perpetually frozen pucker. His massive bodybuilder's arms inspire comparisons to Popeye's caricatured biceps, and his freakishly bulging veins make him a walking schematic diagram of the human circulatory system.
In "Bullet to the Head," Stallone's Jimmy and his literal partner in crime Louis (John Seda) no sooner assassinate a corrupt ex-cop when a really nasty piece of hired help named Keegan (Jason Momoa, star of the "Conan the Barbarian" remake and HBO's "Game of Thrones") punctures Louis' lungs and heart with a blade.
Jimmy repels Keegan's attack and, now, it's personal.
Meanwhile, Korean-American police detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang, on loan from the "Fast and Furious" franchise), tracks down Jimmy, figuring he was involved with the earlier hit.
As the crime clichés start arriving right on schedule, the hit man saves the cop from an ambush by more dirty cops.
Now, the two men from opposite sides of the law reluctantly decide to work together to go after the people who hired Keegan, starting with a big-shot, high society attorney named Baptiste (Christian Slater) who sponsors an elaborate costume party where young women apparently can't afford costumes, so they go naked.
After briefly torturing Baptiste -- who instantly coughs up every detail of his scheme to pay off local judges, cops and politicians -- Jimmy and Kwon realize the criminal mastermind is a man named Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).
A ruthless drug czar? Leader of a terrorist cell? A megalomaniac with plans to take over the Crescent City?
No. Morel is an evil condo builder. He apparently doesn't want to go through the lengthy permits process. Or something like that.
"Bullet to the Head" gets a little fuzzy on details, common sense and internal logic, but then, the pairing of filmmakers Hill and Stallone hardly suggests this will be a New Orleans version of "Downton Abbey."
"Sometimes," Jimmy says in the movie's weak voice-over-narration, "you have to abandon your principles to do what's right!" (What? Aren't you supposed to stick to your principles to do what's right?)
Stallone finds his comfort level as an emo-challenged killer quick with his dukes and even his wits, as Alessandro Camon's screenplay (based on the graphic novel "Du Plomb Dans la Tete") serves up a smorgasbord of pithy comebacks for Stallone to utter with comically inspired irony.
"It's easy to get sentimental about things," he mutters, completely without a whit of sentiment.
Clearly, "Bullet to the Head" aspires to be on the level of a "Lethal Weapon" sequel and fails miserably.
Here, the lead duo shares a sparkless chemistry. The ineffectual Kang gets wiped off the silver screen by Stallone's sheer presence and barely holds his own in scenes with Sarah Shahi as Jimmy's tattoo artist daughter, Lisa, tossed in the plot so the baddies have someone to kidnap.
The frequent fight scenes with Stallone (and mostly Momoa) are mostly the product of quick edits rather than actual combat choreography, although to Hill's credit, the action sequences avoid the headache-inducing strobe-light appeal of the Jason Bourne movies (the Matt Damon series).
This movie's quick. It's lethal. It's done.
Just like a bullet ... well, you know.