Bullet Train

A snatch ‘n grab man is trying to right his life, convinced his bad luck has claimed innocent lives around him when his handler Maria (Sandra Bullock) calls begging him to take on a job for a hitman who has called in sick.  Perhaps to allay his fears, she gives him a new handle, Ladybug (Brad Pitt), demands he take the gun left for him in a locker (he doesn’t) and tells him all he needs to do is deliver a silver briefcase with a sticker of a train on its handle to Kyoto via the “Bullet Train.”

Laura's Review: D+

In recent years, Brad Pitt has proven himself especially deft in comedic roles, so one might expect him leading a huge ensemble in a comedy action thriller from “Deadpool 2” director David Leitch, Pitt’s former stunt double, would be a slam dunk.  Alas, this bloated, soulless product boasts manufactured attitude trying to sell itself as hip with quirky cultural references, only coming alive with the inspired pairing of Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry as sociopathic cockney ‘twins.’

Of course that silver briefcase is this film’s MacGuffin, the real purpose of this movie, written by Zak Olkewicz ("Fear Street: Part Two - 1978") adapting Kotaro Isaka's novel, is to put a bunch of assassins (and a poisonous snake) in an enclosed, funky space and turn them on each other with extreme prejudice.  It’s what I call the “Smokin’ Aces” approach to filmmaking and it is both excessive and empty.  So we get Brad Pitt in black glasses and a bucket hat as the philosophical innocent cast among a nest of vipers in a plot we will eventually learn has been set in motion by the devil-masked White Death (Michael Shannon), the Russian gangster who overthrew Yakuza boss Minegishi (Nobuaki Shimamoto).

It is White Death who has tasked Tangerine and Lemon (Taylor-Johnson and Henry) with protecting his drug-addled son (Logan Lerman) and delivering that silver briefcase, something which Ladybug easily finds stowed in a baggage compartment.  Also on hand are Kimura (Andrew Koji), seeking the person who pushed his young son off the roof of a building (the boy lies in limbo in a hospital bed) and hoping to win back the respect of his father (Hiroyuki Sanada).  Prince (Joey King) may look like a schoolgirl, an appearance she plays to her advantage, but she has a lethal agenda in mind.  Wolf (Bad Bunny) wants revenge for the poisoning of his entire wedding party.  By the time we meet Hornet (Zazie Beetz), I couldn’t care less why she was there.

The production has cooked up different train cars to allow for diverse adventures.  A battle in a café car is interrupted when a hostess steps in to restock her cart.  A passenger gets annoyed as Ladybug and Lemon fight in a ‘Quiet Car.’  A Momomon car adds to the silliness and provides a cutesy disguise for one of the assassins.  Varying props, too, like the Thomas the Tank Engine stickers Lemon uses as psychological analysis for his foes, keep popping up as running gags.       

The violence is extreme and cartoonish, assassin flashbacks adding to the mayhem.  Dead bodies are used like “Weekend at Bernie’s” props.  When Prince’s big reveal happens, it is no surprise whatsoever.  Everything leads up to an explosive derailing climax of dubious special effects, Pitt flying through tumbling cars unscathed.

Back to what’s good about the film and that is Aaron Taylor Johnson sporting a 70’s porn ‘stache and twitchy aggression alongside Brian Tyree Henry with his bleached white tips and soulful demeanor.  These two actually convince us that they care about each other, each actually moving when they believe they’ve lost the other (despite our having seen them butchering bodies in clear plastic ponchos).  But even Pitt disappoints here, the timing of his goofy naïveté just not landing (he got one laugh out of me with a ‘bad luck’ physical gag).  Other members of the starry cast are killed so quickly they don’t get a chance to bring anything to the party.  There are also a couple of surprise ‘inbred’ cameos which invite a chuckle of recognition if nothing else.

“Bullet Train” runs 126 minutes and the first time I checked my watch I was horrified to note we’d only endured the first 50.   Sometimes a movie actively angers me.  This was one of them.

Robin's Review: C-

Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is an experienced assassin but he is just unlucky – and does not like guns. Determined to turn his faltering career around, he takes a new contract to pick up a briefcase. What he does not know is that other hired killers, all with conflicting objectives, will also be aboard the “Bullet Train.”

A bunch of hired killers, and not many others, aboard a bullet train hurtling through the Japanese night, all with a mission of mayhem. What a great idea, huh? As it turns out, it is not.

Things start out normally enough as Ladybug – his cover name assigned by his handler, Maria Beetle (Sandra Bullock) – takes the assignment to secure the above-mentioned piece of luggage with a big sticker of a train on it. As he gets ready, packing the gear he will need, he refuses to take the proffered gun. Then, things very quickly ramp up as he boards the titular vehicle and action, and not much else, ensues in near-biblical proportions.

Unfortunately, action and fights, with fast intercutting of the violence, do not make a story and, while director David Leitch handles all the action slickly, there is not a story. Sure, the bodies stack up as everyone, assassins all, vie to complete their individual missions of murder. That does not make an entertaining movie. Instead, an ever increasing body count and the killers meeting their maker are about it.

Brad Pitt and most of the cast of characters generally just fade into the background in favor of the mayhem. But, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry as the hit-duo and “twin brothers,” Tangerine and Lemon, steal the show whether together or separately and I would not mind seeing the characters team up again. That is not enough, though, to like a movie and I do not like “Bullet Train.” Too bad, I was rooting for it going in.

Sony releases "Bullet Train" in theaters on 8/5/22.