In the original Kung Fu tv series, Shaolin monk Caine walked the Earth and spent a majority of the episode explaining his intent not to fight – which then devolved into martial arts ass kicking. 22 Bullets is an episode of Kung Fu, but in French and with less people in yellowface.
Jean Reno plays retired mafioso Charly Mattei who wants nothing more than to finish his life without further bloodshed. There’s no Fairy Godmother to grant this wish, however, so he gets blasted with, you guessed it, 22 bullets. Despite this, he keeps his bodyguards from killing an informant who knew about the hit and like Caine, he doesn’t wish to fight. That all changes when the released informant rats out Mattei and his crew, leading to further butchery with the intent of scare him away from vengeful plots. Too bad Mattei just looks at his butchered bodyguard as an invitation for a bullet battle royale.
Mattei’s denial of bloodshed is the film at its most intriguing. Whole worlds of possibility flood the imagination when you consider an ex-gangster who wants to solve problems without the gun. Sadly the story switches tracks and takes the easy way out, making Mattei go on a killing spree that would impress The Punisher.
The key ingredient missing from 22 Bullets is the emotional gunpowder to set off the action in ways that made Heat and Leon: The Professional* such great staples of the genre. Instead, 22 Bullets is slightly better than the Transporter action fests produced by Luc Besson, but doesn’t leave much to write home about. Also, since the adept Besson was merely producing, 22 Bullets director Richard Berry assaults us with a barrage of fast cuts that don’t increase urgency, just exasperation.
Points for being bloody and tag lines like, “Spilled blood never dries” (I was thinking it was “dies”, which might be better), but the film should have decided if it wanted to be a nutty action film or a moving drama with bloodshed and gangsters. 22 Bullets hangs out between these areas, leaving an “eh” vibe when you exit the cinema.