Bullet To The Head is on target, Warm Bodies is merely lukewarm

by Mark Burger

As one can easily surmise from the title, Bullet to the Head (***) probably won’t be remembered at next year’s Academy Awards, but this lean, mean Sylvester Stallone vehicle is a quintessential, entertaining B- movie that wastes little time getting down to its gritty, sometimes savage, business.

At an age when most people are collecting a pension, the buff and brawny Stallone can still stir up considerable onscreen mayhem, and here he has the benefit of working with director Walter Hill (his first feature in far too long), likewise an experienced and expert hand at cultivating carnage.

Growling his narration throughout, Stallone’s Jimmy Bobo (nee Jimmy Bonomo) is a veteran hit man who knows his job and does it well. He’s not a man to be trifled with, although he’d probably express that sentiment in more blunt terms. One can rest assured that Jimmy will be trifled with, and those who commit so egregious an insult will live to regret it — although not for very long. That is, of course, what movies like this are all about.

Paired with young detective Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), an alliance fraught with suspicion and agreeably macho banter, Jimmy works his way up the New Orleans underworld, not stopping until he exacts his final revenge. There are many films shot in New Orleans — thanks in large part to its tax incentives — but Bullet to the Head is almost a celebration of familiar Louisiana landmarks, much as it’s also a showcase of nods to Hill’s previous films, among them his very first feature, Hard Times (1975), which was also filmed in New Orleans.

Stallone and Kang make an agreeable comic-book duo (Bullet to the Head is, in fact, based on Alexis Nolent’s graphic novel, Du plomb dans la tete), and there’s good supporting work from Jason Momoa and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as the principal villains, Sarah Shahi as Jimmy’s tough and tattooed daughter (who, naturally, becomes a pawn in the proceedings), and Christian Slater, who’s so funny as a smarmy, corrupt lawyer that it’s almost a shame when he experiences the implications of the film’s title firsthand… or firsthead, as the case may be.

According to Warm Bodies (**), based on Isaac Marion’s bestseller, even the living dead are not immune to adolescent angst and puppy love. Sometimes a zombie just needs a little tender loving care — although that’s no absolute guarantee that he won’t eat you.

Adapted and directed by Jonathan Levine, whose 50/50 was one of 2011’s best films, the film stars Nicholas Hoult as “R” (he can’t remember his first name), an undead teenager whose existential narration provides an insight into what’s left of his decaying brain. Not unlike the character, Warm Bodies shuffles along with occasional bursts of energy and inspiration, although not enough to make the overall work succeed.

Once R gets his first glimpse of human heroine Julie (Teresa Palmer) — she’s pointing a shotgun at his head, incidentally — he is instantly smitten. Rather than tear her to shreds and devour her brains, he instead becomes her protector, trying to somehow broach communication with her. This “rebel without a pulse” is not only from the wrong side of the proverbial tracks — symbolized here by the giant wall that separates the living sector of the city from the dead — but from the wrong side of the grave as well.

As their relationship progresses, however, R begins to display actual human emotions and attributes, and begins to look and act livelier. Indeed, love is bringing him back to life — as well as some of his fellow zombies, at least those who haven’t gone past the point of no return and are essentially walking skeletons (for the record, they’re called “Boneys”).

Hoult bears a passing resemblance to a young Tom Cruise and Palmer to Kristen Stewart (mere coincidence?), but they do about as well as can be expected under the circumstances. Dave Franco takes an early powder as Julie’s boyfriend Perry, although he periodically shows up again in flashbacks (usually when R is eating what’s left of his brain). Analeigh Tipton plays Julie’s customarily sassy best friend, and Rob Corddry has some good moments as a zombie also feeling the pangs of recovery. As Julie’s father, the ruler/commander of the walled-in city, John Malkovich appears the least lively of all, to say nothing of bored with his routine assignment. In the end, Warm Bodies is a fairly tepid time-killer.

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