Bullet Train

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Bullet Train
dir David Leitch
scr Zak Olkewicz
prd Antoine Fuqua, David Leitch, Kelly McCormick
with Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Sandra Bullock, Benito A Martinez Ocasio, Logan Lerman, Zazie Beetz, Masi Oka
release US/UK 5.Aug.22
22/US Sony 2h06

king taylorjohnson sanada

Is it streaming?

henry and pitt
Witty mayhem is unleashed in this action comedy in which rather a lot of foreigners clash inadvertently in Japan. While there are enough ridiculous character details and throwaway gags to keep us chuckling, director David Leitch ironically struggles to build momentum, partly because no one in the story elicits much sympathy. But the main problem is that it's ultimately rather vacuous, never developing its underlying ideas about fate.
Feeling like he's out of luck, bagman Ladybug (Pitt) is given a simple task by his handler (Bullock) on a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. But there are nastier killers on board, including British hitmen Tangerine and Lemon (Taylor-Johnson and Henry), who are escorting the son (Lerman) of fearsome mobster White Death (Shannon), plus vicious killers Wolf (Ocasio) and Hornet (Beetz). There's also the slippery, adept young Prince (King), who quickly bests the emotionally vengeful goon Kimura (Koji). Then Kimura's samurai master father (Sanada) turns up to try and clean up the mess.
It's obvious that this movie was shot on a soundstage, as the only adequate effects never quite convince that anyone is in Japan. This leaves action scenes feeling rather cartoonish, adeptly choreographed for slapstick value rather than suspense. Bonkers grisliness elicits gasps alongside laughter, but there's little urgency. Still, plenty of details fill in the story, which constantly darts into rapidly edited backstories, but the cumulative effect is more silly than satisfying.

With his now-ragged charm, Pitt is thoroughly engaging as a violent man who longs for peace. His pleas for others to stop trying to kill him are amusing, even if someone always ends up in a puddle of blood. Each ensemble member gets several moments to shine; the standouts are Taylor-Johnson and especially Henry, who create a nice relationship in between the nuttiness, and even have a couple of strong emotional beats. And of course Sanada is wonderful, relishing this goofy pastiche of his most acclaimed past roles.

When a comedy's funniest moments are unexpected cameos, it's a bit worrying. There's enough barmy humour to satisfy fans who are in search of escapist nonsense, but it's difficult not to see how the filmmakers miss various opportunities to develop things in directions that would have been both meaningful and hilarious. Instead, this is simply a popcorn movie that generates some laughs and smiles. And a day later it will be difficult to remember why we thought it was so much fun.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 2.Aug.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall