A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Bullet Head is a mature thriller about thieves who take refuge in an underground dog fighting arena. It has a lot of very strong language (specifically, the chronic use of "f--k"), but it's the gory violence involving dogs that's more likely to be nightmarish for younger viewers. Little of the fighting is actually shown, but tons is implied offscreen. And the aftermath of the fights (dead/wounded, bloody animals) is shown, as are torture and murder. Expect to see shootings, drug use (including an overdose), injuries, and pinup-photo nudity. Adrien Brody, John Malkovich, Rory Culkin, and Antonio Banderas star.
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What's the story?
In BULLET HEAD, three thieves on the run (Adrien Brody, John Malkovich, Rory Culkin) take refuge in an apparently abandoned storage facility. It turns out to be a dog fighting hub where a powerful champion canine -- who has a justified grudge against humans -- lives ... and kills. Meanwhile, the mean crime boss (Antonio Banderas) who groomed the dog will probably also kill anyone he sees, should he find the thieves in his lair.
Is it any good?
This thriller's pervasive cruelty to animals and animal-related violence comes under the cover of being pro-dog, which comes across as insincere. ("Isn't it awful that people do this to animals? Here's some more of it.") Because it's still a parade of images, sounds, and scenarios of animals being tortured and killed, and killing for no good reason. Bullet Head (formerly known as De Niro, for the apparent name of its canine monster/hero) is a cinematic mutt, with traces of Reservoir Dogs and Cujo in its lineage -- aspirationally, anyway. But it has none of the impact of the former film or the latter book (or film, for those who found the 1983 adaptation affecting). Essentially, it's a one-location thriller interrupted by flashbacks à la Reservoir, but without that film's brilliant dialogue or memorable characters (or its restraint, which made the bursts of violence in Tarantino's movie so effective). Instead, writer-director Paul Solet tests viewers' patience with a seemingly endless string of rambling anecdotes, almost all of which are pet-themed, then throws in gore, chases, and tons of uses of "f--k." Don't expect any emotional or physical reality here: Characters constantly stop what they're doing, including finding shelter, to speechify, as if this were a canine-themed episode of The Walking Dead. Echoes of Cujo come in the form of the unusually powerful animal -- but these are three career criminals with plenty of bludgeoning/stabbing weapons at hand; why are three grown men so terrified of one badly injured dog?
Solet previously made the very interesting 2009 film Grace -- an original, offbeat horror film. With Bullet Head, he forces the issue in many ways, seemingly trying to inject a horror sensibility into a slow-paced crime drama. Virtually every moment is underscored with hollow atmospheric sounds or music, apparently to try to create tension. It's tiresome. The improbability of the stunts (suddenly there's access to a river inside the building?) badly undermines the chamber-drama feel; the claustrophobic nature of the setting is undercut by action-movie falls and chases. Of the veteran actors present (Brody, Malkovich, Banderas), only Culkin earns our sympathy with a sequence in which a painful memory leads to a fateful decision. Still, bottom line? Most viewers will be openly rooting for the dog.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how movies sometimes depict "honor among thieves." What does that mean? Does it seem believable in Bullet Head?
The central dog is presented as an unbeatable threat. Does that seem realistic? Were you rooting for the dog or the humans? Why?
- In theaters: December 8, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: January 9, 2018
- Cast: Adrien Brody, John Malkovich, Rory Culkin, Antonio Banderas
- Director: Paul Solet
- Studios: Saban Films, Millennium Films
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, bloody images, language, some drug use and nudity
For kids who love thrills
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