The "mindless action movie" is sometimes a misnomer, if only because some actually know what they're doing. The best ones seem mindless in their execution, but they're usually meticulously sticking to a formula that has been proven to entertain (at least to people that are into that sort of thing). Sylvester Stallone's Expendables series is smart, only in the sense that it taps into that violent, exciting, visceral sensibility while adhering to the guidelines of an entertaining action movie -- enigmatic villains, consistent pacing, lack of bogged-down plot and plenty of well-timed explosives.

Bullet to the Head doesn't even get the last one right.

In the sleepy Bullet to the Head, Stallone plays Jimmy Bobo, an old hitman for whom stealth is never really a strategy. After a successful job that is anything but inconspicuous, Jimmy's partner gets shanked at a bar by mercenary Keegan (Jason Momoa). Vowing revenge, Jimmy forms an unlikely alliance with a cop named Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) who's investigating the murder of his partner -- Jimmy's first kill in the film.


The level of corruption in this town (New Orleans, though it's never officially named) is ridiculous, even for a movie like this; Kwon gets shot at multiple times in broad daylight by crooked police officers. Are there no Internal Affairs investigations in this universe?

He and Jimmy eventually uncover some unintelligible scandal involving Morel (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a bad guy whose most interesting -- and annoying -- characteristic is his need to use two crutches. The handicap gives off the same volcanically dormant aesthetic as it does for other crippled villains like Mr. Potter or Dr. Strangelove, but it has none of the powerful personality that enhances the handicap by making it more intimidating. Morel's really just a wimp.

The cast is full of wasted potential. Akinnuoye-Agbaje played Simon Adebisi on Oz. Momoa played one of the coolest badasses ever, the Dothraki leader Khal Drogo, on Game of Thrones. Christian Slater played ... well, Christian Slater's got talent, I think. But they all mail it in here, especially Slater in a scenery-chewing cameo as a local rich scumbag. Momoa tries hard to elevate his one-note psycho character, but he spends more of the movie looking menacing instead of actually being menacing.

The movie needs more action more frequently. The action scenes that work (basically the two Stallone-Momoa fights that bookend the film) come few and far between, separated by the explanation of a cloudy conspiracy, boring car chases and a useless subplot involving Jimmy's daughter (Sarah Shahi), who's mostly there to get captured and to show her breasts. And at the head of it all is Stallone, who seems to look older the worse his movie is; in this one, he looks like he should retire sooner rather than later. Grade: D

(Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use)

Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.