There are certain pleasures in life that are worth cherishing. I have no idea how many people might share my current enthusiasm for Sunday night Danny Trejo double bills, but as horrible as some of these movies are, I'm blissfully happy that they exist because not every action hero should look like Jason Statham or Tom Cruise; sometimes action heroes should look like beaten up seventy year old tattooed Hispanics who usually play stereotypical bad guys. The more I see Trejo as a lead, the more I see the limits of his range, but it's quite a bit wider than homeboy, hood and henchman.
Unfortunately, since Robert Rodriguez powered his ascension to leading man status with 'Machete', he's got into the habit of making new movies about as often as I go to the bathroom and the results are often the same. This one is a terrible movie, even more terrible than usual, but it's terrible in the sort of way that makes bad movie aficionados like me grin like idiots over a few pints of beer, especially in good company. Unfortunately the beer and good company are required, as the communal experience is the enjoyable part, not the movie itself.
Trejo plays Frank Marasco, who's still a cop even though he's past mandatory retirement age. The long history of drug abuse made evident by his family trip to Narcotics Anonymous doesn't stop his fellow cops from worshipping the ground he walks on. He's the cop they all look up to, who gets the job done and who they break the rules for. He's also known to one and all as Bullet for precisely no reason whatsoever.
Everything in this film is off and there's no better example than the title. Why would a good and honest cop be called Bullet, especially when his most effective weapon isn't his gun, it's his fists? Why would a humble and hard working cop have something this inflammatory as the license plate on his car? Nothing says 'protect and serve' quite like a license plate reading BULLET, right? Well, to me it screams arrogance and violence. It's a setup for a blaxploitation movie, but this isn't a blaxploitation movie.
Unfortunately I'm not sure what it really wants to be. For a while it wants to be a cop movie, because crime lord Carlito Kane really doesn't want his son to be executed by the state and he's running out of time. Young Manual is scheduled for death by lethal injection that very night, so Carlito kidnaps the governor's daughter and kills her boyfriend on the phone.
Surely we're going to watch Bullet take him down and save the girl in a standard cop procedural.
Well, Carlito has plans for him too because it was Bullet who got his son locked up in the first place. He decides to kidnap Bullet's grandson as well and use him as leverage for not only a redaction but a confession and a suicide note. So now we're leaving cop territory and moving into thriller territory. It wants to be 'Taken' but with Trejo as Liam Neeson. As much as I enjoy Trejo, that just isn't going to happen.
The tone doesn't play with either of these approaches. It's a revenge movie tone, as Bullet has to go off the books to get things done. The catch is that he doesn't have a reason to do it, because he has nothing to revenge and he's an honest cop. Sure, his grandkid has been kidnapped but he's still alive. In fact, nothing at all has happened to him yet, so it should be a rescue mission not a revenge plot. The cops don't suddenly break all their rules when a rescue mission is looking tough, especially the good cops who everyone respects.
So it feels wrong all the way through and every little detail backs that up. This isn't just a bad movie, it's an inept one. Perhaps the four writers fought each other as to what should be in it. It's certainly a threadbare plot, fragmented and riddled with conveniences, but that would just make a poor movie not a bad one. That's countered at least to a degree by Trejo playing the lead and regular TV scenestealer Jonathan Banks as a suitably villainous villain.
It's that there isn't a single character in the movie who has any substance. Bullet and Kane have simple black and white motivations, even if they make no sense, but nobody else really has a motivation at all. They're clumsily brought into the story and they're clumsily extracted from it. Each of them makes a little jagged hole in the script when they enter and each of them makes it a little worse as they leave. Some do it on a grand scale, like Torsten Voges, who plays a henchman like a Bond villain with an outrageous accent and an eyepatch that covers a fresh wound that causes him absolutely no inconvenience whatsoever. None of these character have a good story arc. Most don't even have a story arc, period.
It's also that the technical side is incompetent. The camera keeps moving subtly in and out of focus, even in static scenes where it doesn't even move. The choreography is poor, whether it's the fighting or the bullet play. The editing is horrible, with delays added into moments that shouldn't have them. It's like the film is breaking the cinematic rulebook, which is fine if you're introducing something new, some sense of style that'll override such arrogance, but crazy otherwise. Here, there's no discernable style at all, so it's just incompetence.
At least with the 'Machete' movies, there's Rodriguez's fun grindhouse insanity. At least with the 'Bad Ass' movies, we get to see old guys kicking ass. Even in a movie like 'Force of Execution', with Trejo back in an odd supporting role, he gets to play with scorpion medicine and we can be distracted by a wild Steven Seagal performance that's like Brian Cox playing Tom Savini playing Marlon Brando playing the Godfather, or some similar strangely elusive concept like that.
'Bullet', however, is mostly ineptitude, doing almost everything wrong. Trejo is fair, doing enough to keep the film going but nothing more. Banks is wildly villainous, highlighting yet again how he deserves better parts in better movies. The rest is just wrong. If you have the beer and the good company, you might get some laughs out of how wrong it is. If not, you're going to feel like there's a Bullet with your name on it.