'Bullet Head': Film Review

Bullet Head Still 1 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Saban Films
The dog steals the film.

Adrien Brody, John Malkovich, Antonio Banderas and Rory Culkin star in Paul Solet's thriller about a trio of criminals trapped in a warehouse with a vicious attack dog.

If life were more like the movies, criminals wouldn't be committing robberies, they'd be hosting dinner parties. Although it's doubtful that prison cafeterias are a hotbed of witty banter, crime films always seem to feature crooks who love to chat as much as they break the law. The latest example is writer/director Paul Solet's new thriller Bullet Head, in which a trio of career criminals are trapped in a warehouse by a vicious attack dog and while away the time by exchanging ironic stories from their past. They're also eventually pursued by a ruthless but voluble gangster who wields an automatic weapon that seems loaded as much with words as bullets.

The film's main draw is its cast, all of whom have seen more illustrious career days but nonetheless can still deliver the goods. The trio of unnamed robbers — a grizzled veteran, his soulful partner and a young junkie — are played by John Malkovich, Adrien Brody and Rory Culkin. The ensemble also includes Antonio Banderas, in his most fearsome mode as the gangster, and the dog, who gives the best performance. (Well, three dogs, to be precise. Their names, for the record, are Han Solo, Curly and Ademar.)  

When the crooks' heist goes awry, as heists tend to do in films of this type, they find themselves unable to escape. Unfortunately for them, the warehouse in which they're stuck is also the site of illegal dog fights whose canine combatants have been given such names as Eastwood, Mitchum and Bronson, presumably because the lowlifes who run dogfights are inevitably movie buffs. When a recent victor, a Presa Canario named De Niro, manages to get away, he terrorizes the hapless criminals who also happen to be animal lovers.

We know that because of the dialogue, of which there is an inordinate amount. Malkovich and Brody (we never learn their characters' names) engage in a spirited conversation about the relative merits of dog and cat people. They, along with Culkin, also deliver long-winded anecdotes, dramatized in flashbacks, all featuring animals. They include stories about a truffle-sniffing dog, an ill-advised attempt at stealing a bowl of fish for a little girl's Christmas present and a heartrending episode in which a father shoots his young son's dog.

To their credit, the actors deliver the stories with the sort of relish displayed by young thespians auditioning for the Actors Studio. And while Banderas doesn't have a flashback of his own, he gets to deliver a folksy monologue nonetheless, one made all the more impressive by the fact that he's firing a gun as he's doing it.

Unfortunately, Bullet Head has a lot of dead time between the flashbacks. The exception is a lengthy set piece in which Brody is pursued by De Niro (the dog, not the actor, who somehow managed to avoid being in this B-movie) through the warehouse. It's a bravura sequence, complete with Brody seeking refuge in a school bus and a piano (yes, a piano), and it even has emotional resonance as well, since by the time it's over Brody and the dog have reached a truce and a grudging respect for each other.

The filmmaker, clearly an animal lover, makes the dog the most vivid character in this minor crime drama. Considering the caliber of the actors in the cast, that's no small accomplishment all by itself.  

Production companies: Sunset Junction, Principato Young Entertainment, Millennium Media
Distributor: Saban Films, Lionsgate
Cast: Adrien Brody, Antonio Banderas, John Malkovich, Rory Culkin, Alexandra Dinu, Ori Pefffer
Director-screenwriter: Paul Solet
Producers: David Gardner, Raphael Swann, Victor Shapiro, Paul Solet, Milos Djukelic, Yariv Lerner, Boaz Davidson, Les Weldon
Executive producers: Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Zoran Popovic, Rick Benattar, William V. Broomiley, Ness Saban, Shanan Becker.
Director of photography: Zoran Popovic
Production designer: Nikola Bercek
Editor: Josh Ethier
Costume designer: Anna Gelinova
Composer: Austin Wintory
Casting: Luke Cousins

Rated R, 93 minutes