Despite the title, there’s nothing at all cerebral about “Headshot” except the punches the hero takes to his noggin over the course of many fights—and returns in kind. Iko Uwais, who showed his prowess in combat in the two “Raid” movies, returns in another gritty Indonesian martial-arts extravaganza that offers little food for thought but a steady stream of over-the-top action. Fans of pictures that feature real stunts rather than CGI facsimiles of them will be pleased, though others will find the endless violence a bit much to stomach.
If there’s a problem with the picture, in fact, it’s that it has rather too much plot, compared to the “Raid” entries. They offered the barest of explanations for their string of brutal confrontations, but the rationale in this case is more complicated. A criminal mastermind named Lee (Sunny Pang) has been abducting children and turning them, via tortuous brainwashing, into an army of obedient minions. Lee is captured by the police and breaks out of prison in a bloodbath that opens the movie, but before that he had ordered the killing of one of his soldiers, Abdi (Uwais), for some unspecified infraction. That’s the reason for the bullet lodged in the young man’s brain—and the movie’s title.
Abdi survived, however, though in a coma. Cared for by kindly young doctor Ailin (Chelsea Islan), he gradually recovers, but with amnesia, so she calls him, presumably as a fan of Melville, Ishmael. For a time they are a happy couple, until the freed Lee learns that his untrustworthy protégé is still alive and sends his troops to finish him off. To ensure that Abdi will eventually come to his lair for a showdown, Lee of course abducts Ailin and holds her hostage.
The first half of “Headshot,” despite some bursts of action like that opening prison break, is devoted more to exposition than sheer fisticuffs, though there are a few exceptions punctuating the talk. The second, however, goes full throttle, with one face-off after another, as in the “Raid” flicks. To be sure, some of them go on so long that exhilaration turns to exhaustion, for the viewer as well as the fighters; one gets the feeling that Uwais and his stunt colleagues became so enamored of every idea they had for tweaking the fights that they were reluctant to give up any notion they had come up with, as in the final confrontation between Abdi and Lee. But there are undeniably plenty of visceral thrills here for fans of the genre.
Like the “Raid” pictures this one is technically pretty rudimentary. But it’s shot (in widescreen by Yunus Pasolang) and edited (Arifin Cuunk) well enough to allow you to appreciate the athleticism of Uwais, whose acting skills might be minimal but whose moves aren’t, and the other brawlers. And in the final analysis, that’s what really matters in a movie like “Headshot.”