Executed with considerable polish and filled with familiar faces, Love and Bullets feels suspiciously like a real movie. After all, it’s ostensibly a crime thriller, and it stars Charles Bronson, who enjoyed more than a few successes in the realm of violent cinema. Yet the story has one of the most anemic second acts in screenwriting history, and the characters are preposterously undercooked. Adding to the list of shortcomings is a typically amateurish performance by leading lady Jill Ireland, Bronson’s real-life wife and his onscreen foil is far too many pictures. Having said all that, Love and Bullets has a few enjoyable passages of action and/or suspense, so even if the movie is the filmic equivalent of empty calories, at least some of the scenes have flavor.
Bronson plays Charlie Congers, a detective based in Phoenix, Arizona. Federal agents show up one day and ask Charlie to travel to Europe, where onetime mob girlfriend Jackie Pruitt (Ireland) is in hiding. The Feds believe Jackie has incriminating information on big-time gangster Joe Bomposa (Rod Steiger), her former lover, but the Feds offer convoluted reasons why they can’t cross international borders in order to collect Jackie. Charlie accepts the assignment, and before long he and Jackie are on the run from Joe’s hit men, who want to prevent Jackie from testifying. Naturally, the fugitives fall in love. The unusual wrinkle, which should have energized the story but never ends up adding much of anything, is that Jackie doesn’t actually have any useful knowledge about Joe’s criminal activities. Therefore, all the danger that arises from Charlie’s mission is pointless, which has the effect of making the movie feel pointless, as well.
Despite the inconsequential story, the sleek surfaces of Love and Bullets offer minor pleasures—as is true for most of the movies directed by reliable journeyman Stuart Rosenberg, best known for a series of Paul Newman collaborations including Cool Hand Luke (1967). During one imaginative sequence, for instance, Charlie makes a blowgun out of found objects and then uses the weapon to dispatch several would-be assassins. Additionally, the tightly wound score by Lalo Schifrin evokes the menace of Jerry Goldsmith’s music and a bit of the whimsy of Ennio Morricone’s, so the movie has a lively soundtrack. Colorful players including Val Avery, Bradford Dillman, Michael V. Gazzo, Paul Koslo, Strother Martin, and Henry Silva attack their supporting roles vigorously, compensating mightily for Ireland’s tone-deaf acting. Bronson is just Bronson, familiar but formidable. And then there’s Steiger, shouting and strutting through one of his signature overwrought performances. Rarely has so much effort been exhausted to portray a character of so little importance.
Love and Bullets: FUNKY