Director: David Leitch
Cast: Brad Pitt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Andrew Koji, Joey King, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael Shannon, Hiroyuki Sanada, Bad Bunny, Masi Oka, Zazie Beetz, Logan Lerman, Karen Fukuhara, Sandra Bullock
Runtime: 2 hrs 6 mins
Rating: M18 (Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Sony Pictures
Opening Day: 4 August 2022
Synopsis: An original movie event, Bullet Train is a fun, delirious action-thriller from the director of Deadpool 2, David Leitch. Brad Pitt headlines an ensemble cast of eclectic, diverse assassins – all with connected yet conflicting objectives – set against the backdrop of a non-stop ride through modern-day Japan.
The success of actioner John Wick not only propels Keanu Reeves back to superstardom but also its two directors, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Both former prominent stuntman and choreographer, Stahelski continues to helm the Wick franchise while Leitch has went on to direct an original spy movie, Atomic Blonde, a sequel to Deadpool and a spinoff called Hobbs and Shaw.
With Bullet Train, Leitch has somehow managed to mash up everything from all his past works into it and that’s definitely not a good thing. Let’s see, there’s a bit of complexity which is left over from Blonde, the ridiculous tone of Deadpool 2 and the abundance cheesy CGI from Shaw. The only thing that makes it at least bearable is the charismatic presence of the one and only Brad Pitt.
Nicknamed Ladybug by his handler, Pitt’s character is a self-proclaimed assassin with a streak of bad luck. Still, the man is back in business after some good old therapy by his master, Barry and his latest “snatch-and-grab” assignment involves stealing a suitcase and getting off the train at the next stop. Sounds simple enough. However, the script which is adapted from a Japanese novel by Kotaro Isaka gets more and more convoluted and absurd as more and more deadly assassins appear in the picture.
First there is twin brothers, Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who has managed to rescue the son (Logan Lerman) of a powerful mobster dubbed White Death and supposedly due to return him to the triad at the last station. Then there is a teenage killer, Prince (Joey King) who has a motive of her own. On top of this, there is a father played by Andrew Koji who is out to avenge his son who is hurt by Prince earlier on. Not forgetting the father of the father, played by Hollywood’s favourite go to Japanese star, Hiroyuki Sanada who harbours a dark secret. Then there are some miscellaneous killers dubbed the Hornet and Wolf looking for Ladybug because apparently no one has a proper first or last name in the entire movie. Perhaps it’s due to some translation issue but that’s not the point.
The biggest problem of Bullet Train lies in the tone. The script by Zak Olkewicz comes across like a second-rate Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie’s screenplay. It tries hard to be stylish, cool and hip. It even tries hard to be ticklish funny. Unfortunately, none of the jokes or gags actually stick well especially Lemon’s repetitive theory of comparing human behaviour to Thomas the train. Even the constant bantering between Lemon and Tangerine turns irritable after a while.
Luckily, Pitt proves he has what it takes to be both an action star and a self-deprecating comedian. He hasn’t done a lot of comedies in his career but his quiet, little scene with a Japanese hi-tech toilet should at least qualify him for a SNL membership. Speaking of quiet, little scenes, Bullet Train fares much better in smaller situations for examples, Ladybug and Lemon’s squabble in a quiet cabin and later on, a sharply coordinated showdown between Ladybug and Tangerine in a snack-replenishing cabin. There’s a slight twist in the end with a brief cameo by General Zod that contributes to the satisfying climax which to be frank comes 20 minutes too late.
Rather than making good use of the confined setting of a fast-moving bullet train, Leitch has to frequently resort to excessive violence and bludgeons. Thus for those looking for some “wick” action setups, you will be generally disappointed by the over reliance of CGI and quick cuts. Despite all the mishaps, some if not a handful will appreciate the tongue-in-cheek humour while the glorified cameos from famous faces might spring some surprises. For action fans, this is truly a missed opportunity for yet another high-octane franchise.
(Bullet Train might not be a trainwreck but neither is it a smooth ride to Kyoto)
Review by Linus Tee