Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Bullet Head: Dogs and Robbers

This dog definitely has a purpose—to bite your face off. He was trained to be a killer, but he exceeded his handler’s expectations. Now he is roaming the decrepit warehouse where a trio of hard luck thieves hope to regroup and lay low after pulling their latest job. Good luck with that. The killer dog movie gets a gangster twist in Paul Solet’s Bullet Head (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

We can have confidence in a jaded old crook played by John Malkovich. That is less true for his younger but nearly as jaded associate portrayed by Adrien Brody, but we can give him the benefit of the doubt. However, we assume the worst about their junky accomplice, with good reason—he is played by Rory Culkin. They have holed up in a squalid former warehouse, waiting for their getaway ride, but they are not alone. Cujo is also roaming the halls, but he was known as DeNiro during his dog-fighting days. His trained assumed those days were over after a particularly nasty battle royale, but he assumed wrong—fatally wrong.

The larcenous trio mostly concentrate on eluding the homicidal pooch, which does indeed require their full efforts. However, they eventually come to realize he is part of a particularly evil criminal enterprise, whose mastermind will most likely be returning sometime soon, to look for his now dead accomplice and the bag full of money from the last fight.

Solet’s feature debut Grace was weirdly over-hyped, but his follow-up release Dark Summer and his contribution to the anthology film Tales of Halloween were quite sly and pleasingly sinister. He shows even greater range this time around, mashing up horror and Elmore Leonard-esque crime elements into a hybrid that defies all expectations.

Of course, Solet has Malkovich doing Malkovich, which is a rock-solid foundation to build on. This is a weirdly discursive film, featuring several stories within the main narrative, but that definitely plays to Malkovich’s let-me-tell-you-a-thing-or-two strengths. Brody’s hound dog face also works well in the context of the film. In contrast, we just want to give Culkin a good slapping, but that is how we are supposed to feel about him. Plus, Antonio Banderas is absolutely not fooling around as the all-business, seriously malevolent dog-fighting gangster. He is hardcore, for real.

At this point, the combination of Banderas and Brody might suggest straight-to-DVD retro cash-ins, but Bullet Head is a straight-up good movie. It also suggests Banderas is a dog who can learn new tricks, while Malkovich’s old tricks are still just as entertaining as they have always been. Highly recommended for fans of heart-warming dog movies, like The Pack and White Dog, Bullet Head opens this Friday (12/8) in New York, at the Village East.