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Bullet to the Head

In many ways, Bullet to the Head is as ludicrous as you would expect. A heavily tattooed Sylvester Stallone and Conan beefcake Jason Momoa arm themselves with axes for a fight. Christian Slater's sleazy lawyer character hosts a giant sexy party in his Garden District mansion, complete with nude ladies doing the tango and Slater himself wearing a fox mask that's a little too on the nose. There's a corrupt real estate baron from Africa played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who uses not one but two canes and plans to demolish the ''ghetto housing projects'' in New Orleans to build sweet new condos or whatever. And all of the women that appear in the film — all of them that have any lines and plenty that don't say a word — show their breasts at one time or another, evenSarah Shahi, playing Stallone's daughter Lisa. Stallone's character is nicknamed Jimmy Bobo, and he brings his own bottle of bourbon with him when he goes to bars — Bulleit, of course.

However, unlike more recent action films like Jack Reacher or Stallone's endless Expendables, Bullet to the Head is a pleasing, solid genre flick. Part of the appeal, along with the impressive fight scenes and laughably elaborate set-ups, is that the film knows when it's being silly. ''What are we, f**king Vikings?'' Stallone bellows right before he and Momoa come to blows. Slater is a perfectly ratty little lawyer who, when tied to a chair and being threatened with bodily harm, sneers, ''There's nothing you can do to men that I haven't done to myself for fun!''

Stallone gets the best lines, usually tossed-off phrases like suggesting someone's bullet wounds could be fixed up with ''a band-aid and a blow pop,'' but he's also saddled with some of the worst. His interactions with his reluctant partner, a handsome cop named Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang), slow the movie down to a glacier's pace. One might imagine that director Walter Hill is trying to recall the dicey racial tension in the 48 Hrs. movies between Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, but it doesn't translate here at all. Jimmy Bobo's ribbing of Taylor isn't just unfunny, it's boring. There's nothing particularly clever about any of the written jokes about tea leaves, Confucius, samurai, and so forth; while Kang's character is supposed to be annoyed by this ''banter,'' it looks like Kang himself isn't all that thrilled.

Bullet to the Head is no masterpiece, let's be clear. Plunking down Stallone et al. in New Orleans creates a cognitive dissonance that's laughable at best. Momoa, who plays a vicious mercenary, looks hilariously out of place in the redneck bar we first see him in; he's really born to play characters like Khal Drago in Game of Thrones, where he just has to ride a horse and look like a dangerous-but-sexy warrior. People seem impossible to kill; often it takes, you know, a bullet to the head to finally keep 'em down. And that daughter of Jimmy's, Sarah? She is a tattoo artist with one year of medical school under her belt, so she's pretty swell when it comes to basic medical procedures. Like bullet removal.

But let's go back to all those boobies. This is an R-rated movie with plenty of violence and drugs and nudity, and that is fine by me. I do not mind looking at good-looking naked people, not in the least. When the first character we meet is a prostitute who is merely referred to as a hooker for a good chunk of the movie, and that's really one of the only female characters we meet, that's a problem. When Lisa's mom is referred to as a dead hooker junky, that's a trend. And when Lisa is lounging in the bathtub and Taylor breaks into her house for, well, whatever reason he and Jimmy came up with, and she runs into him in her living room when she's wearing nothing but a towel and we can see her butt and breasts, it makes me scratch my head a little. Look, this is an action movie, and one based on a comic book to boot, so I'm not expecting Tennessee Williams here, but give me a break. There were probably some women at the Garden District party who were clothed, but the great majority of women in the movie are naked and/or referred to as totally disposable, which is a frankly sickening trend in an otherwise enjoyable movie. It would have been better to leave all of the female characters on the cutting room floor and be done with it than treat them with such matter-of-fact contempt. Sadly, this gross undercurrent knocks my original star rating down a half.

Bullet to the Head is not a summer blockbuster, but it's better than the typical January dregs. Spring can't come soon enough. rated this film 2 1/2 stars.