February 1st, 2013 4:29 pm | by MICHAEL NORDINE Movies & Television | Posted In: Movie Reviews

B-Grade Action Resurges: Parker and Bullet to the Head Reviewed

bullettotheheadsylvesteBullet to the Head
Neither Parker, starring Jason Statham, nor the Sylvester Stallone vehicle Bullet to the Head screened for Portland critics—rarely a good sign. But critic Michael Nordine thinks they may represent a return to B-movie form.

The Bourne franchise did more than provide Matt Damon's meal ticket for the better part of a decade. Slowly but surely, it also helped spur a sea change within the action genre itself: out with needless explosions, in with calculated plots and brainy heroes who only snap bad guys' necks when absolutely necessary. A year after the first Bourne movie was released in 2002, the transition continued when Arnold Schwarzenegger was put out of commission by the voters of California; Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme were already on the outs thanks to moviegoers deposing them with their wallets.

Though the tent poles—the Transformers films, the superhero movies—never went anywhere, the mid-budget action flick did. There has, nevertheless, been an uptick in what might be called traditional B-grade action over the last few years. The Expendables proved a decent who's-who of '80s and '90s action stars, John Hyams made two exceptional Universal Soldier sequels, and the newly single Schwarzenegger is out of office and back in theaters. This has come to a head in the last several weeks: Arnold returned to the marquee with The Last Stand on Jan. 18, the Jason Statham-starring Parker was released last Friday and Bullet to the Head arrives in theaters today. One small problem: Arnold's triumphant return to the screen has recouped less than half its $45 million budget over the last two weeks and Parker has been similarly underwhelming. Bullet, directed by Walter Hill and starring Sylvester Stallone, may also have an uphill financial battle.

Reviewing it two weeks ago, WW’s AP Kryza rightly called The Last Stand “a welcome return to form—a hysterically stupid celebration of chaos delivered with childlike love.” If anyone was carrying that torch in Arnie's absence, it was Statham; 20 years later, it turns out that the Brit may be the last real action hero. He's never made a film to match Predator or T2, but his output has been consistently serviceable in a way that few of his forebears and peers can lay claim to. (It doesn't hurt that, unlike many of said forebears and peers, Statham has the acting chops to match his physicality.) Coming into his own with The Transporter, in the same year that Bourne was released, Statham has forged a sort of middle path between the two extremes of action cinema.

Parker (C+), which spends much of its two-hour runtime delving into its title character's vengeance-driven M.O., is the most measured and patient of these three new films. It's deliberately paced, gives Statham ample time to espouse his rule-following ideology, and it has viewers sharing in his relentless quest to get back the crew that left him for dead. There may be as many strained revelations about Statham and co-star Jennifer Lopez's troubled inner lives as pithy one-liners, but Parker's blend of old-school action ultimately lives up to the promise of the exceptional heist sequence on which it opens.

Most of the dialogue in Bullet to the Head (C+) is as blunt as the title—which is also the name of a John Woo movie from 1990—but the gunfire and axe fights (!) are carried out with a sort of kinetic grace that betrays its makers' experience within the genre. Enjoyment of Walter Hill's (The Warriors, Wild Bill) first film in more than a decade is nevertheless largely predicated upon agreeing with its tagline: “Revenge never gets old.” This is indeed an old story whose director and star have both been around the block several times over, but Hill and Stallone have put their experience within the genre to good use. The result is the kind of movie in which dudes drink whiskey straight from the bottle to dull the pain of amateur surgery, and callously offing baddies is due more to a survival-of-the-fittest instinct than to conscious decision-making. Sly is at his gruffest and most no-nonsense throughout, especially compared to the detective (Sung Kang) he partners with to take down a shared enemy in New Orleans.

The unlikely duo is, of course, brought together by circumstances beyond their control and would just as soon have nothing to do with one another. And though this partnership often strains credulity (especially when Kang just kind of hangs out as Stallone's Jimmy Bobo straight up murders people), it does lead to Sly at one point saying “Let's go take a bath.” Small victories, friends.
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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