Pitt still has the strength to support an entire film on his protein-shake shoulders, which is fortunate because Bullet Train requires a lot of support. Director David Leitch and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz’s attempt to weave the books’ intersecting narratives into a single work of pulp fiction has a tendency to jump the rails at regular intervals. The result is a candy-colored concoction of carnage with a significant body count and even higher empty-calorie count. Ladybug, a professional murderer who recently emerged from a personal funk, is at the center of it all in more ways than one. He has a bit of a job complex because of some terrible luck he’s had on a few jobs; he believes a higher power has cursed him for unknown reasons. But now that he’s had some downtime and received some rehabilitation, he’s ready to go. Maria, his handler, has started him off with a straightforward task. The voice on his phone advises him to board the bullet train leaving Tokyo. Grab a briefcase; you can’t miss the sticker on the handle. At the following stop, get off. What might possibly fail?
First off, there are the two men who are carrying the object. They are the eccentric British hit guys Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), whose reputation precedes them. The former follows a Thomas the Tank Engine-based philosophy that includes archetypal breakdowns and sticker sheets. The latter is merely a typical asshole. This quarreling pair had been paid to find Logan Lerman, the kidnapped son of the infamous and dreaded Russian criminal known as White Death. He has his ransom money in that prized case. The precise number is disputed following one slaughter of either 16 or 17 victims, necessitating an elaborate flashback counting off deaths to resolve the disagreement. Lemon and Tangerine depart with the boy as well as the cash. At one of the stops, they both must be turned over to Dad’s friends. However, the case has been taken. Even worse, a corpse is waiting for the citrus-y couple when they return to their seats after looking for it.
In addition, Kimura (Warriors Andrew Koji), a yakuza’s son whose own little son was injured after being shoved off a roof, is in the hospital. It turns out that the Prince (Joey King), a sassy youngster with her own unique scheme for retaliation, ambushed him on the train after tipping him off that the bastard who committed the crime was on it. The Wolf (Bad Bunny), a young man dressed in gauche cartel-chic attire, too has vengeance on his mind. He once lost his bride on a very bloody wedding day. And the theft of a poisonous viper from the zoo, which may be on board as well as snakes on a train, is making the news! Another legendary assassin known as the Hornet may be lurking nearby, and victims keep turning up poisoned with blood pouring from their eyes. It’s also more probable that Mr. White Death will personally appear as everyone approaches their destination, which usually results in terrible consequences.
With the exception of a few gender shifts and supplementary story elements, most of this is taken directly from the original material. If you’ve read Isaka’s freshly translated page-turner, you’ll recognize enough of the novel’s tone to ensure an accurate page-to-screen conversion. That is both a benefit and a flaw: The book itself is stuffed to the gills with neurotic psychopaths, Pop Culture trash, wacky murders with quirky names, and more Type O spilt than a blood bank in a Mack Sennett two-reeler. That infatuation with Thomas the Tank? Along with odd comments about Virginia Woolf and German silent film, it is included in the original text. Although Bullet Train was initially released in 2010, the fever visions of one particular American writer-director from that era continue to haunt readers now.
Therefore, it wasn’t shocking when Isaka said he wasnt bothered by his Japanese novel getting the full Hollywood treatment, as Hollywood’s influence feels much more prominent in his work than anything else relating to Japanese culture, Shinkansen setting or not. You get the distinct impression that you are actually seeing Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino’s ode to psychotronic Japanese cinema, being translated from English to Japanese and back again. It’s like being in an echo chamber that keeps reflecting other people’s second-generation love and larceny back at you with diminishing returns. All of this sound and fury, Caro syrup, irony, and Kawaii-cutesiness conjures up this effect. This one has a distinct snake-eating-its-own-tale vibe. Simply calling it Kill Brad, Vol. 1 would have been the honest thing to do.
Pitt and Taylor-Johnson in
Sony Pictures / Scott Garfield
All of which may have been acceptable had Bullet Train provided the thrills, chills, and steroidal summer-flick highs one would anticipate from a dark comedy set on an all-star murder express. Prior to co-creating John Wick, still the best action franchise of the last ten years, Leitch racked up years of experience as an action coordinator and stuntman. He served as Brad Pitt’s double on the film Fight Club. He was the one who put Charlize Theron through her paces in Atomic Blonde. He also directed Deadpool 2, and this movie shares some of that movie’s snide nihilism. Leitch obviously understands a ton of various ways to cause havoc, but the madness itself never picks up the right pace. Battle scenes and CGI-heavy ballyhoo fizzle out before they even get started. Any hopes that Pitt will undergo a complete gun fu/UFC fighter makeover ought to be left at the door; this isn’t a Brad Wick production. Overall, the idea is to keep everything else moving so quickly that people will mistake the frantic pace for genuine Grand Guignol enjoyment, even though a train traveling at 285 kilometers per hour is still traveling at a normal rate of speed.
Regarding the remainder of the cast, certain actors are better able to handle their accents and action scenes than others. You can feel Brian Tyree Henry and Taylor-Johnson trying extra hard to provide some sort of electro-shock treatment to their curdled-cool banter. Hopefully, Henry received hazard pay for wearing his atomic-blonde do. Zazie Beetz ought to be spared from having to end each of her sentences with an exclamatory bitch. Nobody does more with the little that is given to them, and that is the movie’s sketch of a glaring, deranged eccentric—a.k.a. his sweet spot—as Michael Shannon reminds us when he enters the scene late in the game. Given that Sandra Bullock appears in the trailers, revealing that she plays Ladybug’s boss is hardly a spoiler. You’ll leave Bullet Train certain there’s an unofficial network of a half-dozen celebs one phone call away from randomly appearing in each other’s movies, and a few other famous-face appearances are better kept a secret.
But let’s get back to that name that appears above the title. A specific kind of actor can rise beyond poor to incredibly dismal material. However, only a truly exceptional movie actor can make you believe that his or her very presence is what’s preventing the chaos from degenerating into a total trainwreck. The only thing that genuinely sets this apart from being just another gorgeously lit, stupid-hip snarkfest is how much casual charisma and passion Pitt is bringing to this. It’s impossible to overstate how unwatchable this might have been without him injecting a sense of Pittitude into every scene he’s in, whether it’s tossing off Ladybugs post-therapy platitudes (Hurt people hurt people), or gracefully moving through some uncharacteristically awkward set pieces, or just showing a WTF-dude? bewilderment when a case of mistaken identity nearly gets him killed. Watching him perform at his highest level is so enjoyable that it almost makes up for the other things you have to endure. You should get off the train at each station along the route. He is the only thing keeping you going until the very end.