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Sylvester Stallone (left), and Jason Momoa in a scene from ‘Bullet to the Head’. (AP)
‘Bullet’ occasionally entertaining ‘Gatekeepers’ thought-provoking documentary

Thirty-one years ago, Walter Hill directed “48 HRS.,” one of the all-time classic mismatched-buddy movies, a film that deftly mixed comedy and action with two lead characters bristling against each other until they grudgingly find some degree of mutual respect. Despite the presence of Sylvester Stallone in the lead role, “Bullet to the Head” reminds us that it’s definitely not the ’80s anymore; Hill can still direct a shoot-out and a fistfight with the best of them, but there’s no wit to this leaden piece. When the shooting stops and the actors start talking, you can feel the movie hitting bottom and marking time until the next burst of action.


Adapting a French graphic novel, screenwriter Alessandro Camon (“The Messenger”) delivers up a by-the-numbers plot but still requires two prologues to get the ball rolling. Still, it all boils down to this: hitman James “Jimmy Bobo” Bonomo (Stallone) and his partner kill some scuzzball, and within hours the partner has been killed by Keegan (Jason Momoa), who also tries to off Jimmy.
DC cop Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang of “Fast Five”) comes to town —- which is obviously New Orleans, but it’s comic-bookishly called “Crescent City” throughout — because the scuzzball turns out to be his former partner, who went rogue and had planned to blackmail Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who, like a great many movie villains these days, has a nefarious plan to turn slums into condos. (“Prestigious condos,” as the character likes to point out.) Kwon and Bobo team up to get revenge, blah blah hidden file of evidence, blah blah Bobo’s kidnapped daughter (Sarah Shahi), blah meow lots of bullets to lots of heads.
 

“Staccato blasts of violence” fall firmly within Hill’s skill set, but his style has been so aped over the last few decades that there’s nothing in “Bullet to the Head” that feels particularly fresh. And then there are the wretched performances, particularly from Stallone, who has absolutely zero chemistry, or even anti-chemistry, with Kang.
Bobo makes racist barbs, and Kwon rolls his eyes, but they never butt up against each other in a remotely interesting way. It’s like observing the world’s longest awkward cocktail party conversation, between two people searching the room desperately for someone else to talk to.
Only Momoa provides any kind of danger or intensity, but the movie betrays him by building to a big showdown between him and Stallone. You can predict how implausibly that ends. Stallone can still be entertaining - the “Expendables” franchise is pretty much the “That’s Entertainment!” of 1980s action ridiculousness - but here he’s got no character to play, nothing fun to say, and the craziest hair/hairpiece/scalp growth this side of John Travolta.


Cliches
Add to that a cavalcade of cliches from the local color that reads like a Chamber of Commerce video (jazz bands, an overdose of zydeco flavoring in the score by Ry Cooder wannabe Steve Mazzaro, Bobo’s swamp house that’s apparently just down the bayou from Jason Statham’s in “The Mechanic”) to the utterly predictable story beats, and you’ve got a thoroughly generic movie that can only sporadically provide even gut-level thrills.
(Even the title rips off a much better movie, John Woo’s “Bullet in the Head.”)
Hill, Stallone and even Kang have done better and, with luck, will do better again. Do them and yourself a favor and pretend this movie never happened.
 

The classic joke asks, “Why does a Jew always answer a question with a question?”
The answer: “Why not?”
There are lots of questions and more questions, along with some answers, in “The Gatekeepers,” a thought-provoking new Israeli documentary about Shin Bet, the nation’s secret service. Director Dror Moreh (“Sharon”) convinced all six former heads of Shin Bet to appear on camera for solo interviews in which they discuss the agency’s role in the nation’s history and reflect on its, and their own, successes and failures.
What they have to say is, by turns, fascinating, provocative and sure to reverberate both in Israel and internationally, particularly when, by the end, almost all have endorsed the creation of an independent Palestinian state and called for an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the cessation of new Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.


“Gatekeepers,” which opened Friday in New York and Los Angeles, has been nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar at the upcoming Academy Awards.
The movie provides a tour of Israel’s history, from its founding in 1948, the triumph of the 1967 War, the rise of the Palestinian freedom movement, and through to today, when issues involving a Palestinian solution remain stubbornly unresolved and a lasting peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors seems no closer at hand than a half century ago. Slowly and deliberately, Moreh takes each man through his years with Shin Bet, beginning with Avraham Shalom, who headed the agency from 1980 to 1986.

(The others interviewed are Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Ami Avalon, Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin.) Shalom eventually resigned from his position after it became public that he had ordered the execution of two Arab terrorists after they had been captured alive following the hijacking an Israeli bus.
As each successive head of the agency is interviewed, it becomes apparent that over the years, a clear-cut sense of where the moral boundaries lay with spying, torture and killings became ever fuzzier within the agency. So did notions of who exactly was the enemy. In addition to facing an ever-changing cast of foes from among the ranks of Palestinians (the PLO, Hamas, etc.), Shin Bat also found itself investigating, spying on and tracking ultra-religious, right wing Jews in Israel who opposed peace efforts and plotted to blow up the Dome on the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites of Islam. (It was a Jewish extremist who assassinated prime minister yitzhak Rabin in 1995.)

The Shin Bat heads contend that they received scant help from the politicians in charge, who mostly struck poses rather than making hard decisions or tackling big issues. “It was tactics, not strategies,” Shalom says of efforts over the years to deal with the Palestinians. Not since Robert McNamara, the US Secretary of Defense during much of the Vietnam War, sat down with filmmaker Errol Morris for the Oscar-winning “The Fog of War” (2003), have major government figures so publicly reexamined their actions and consciences as the Shin Bat leaders do here. It makes for compelling viewing no matter where you stand on the enduring and on-going crisis that is the Middle East. (RTRS).

 


By: Alonso Duralde

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