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Bullet Train (A Movie Review)


Starring Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, Sandra Bullock, Zazie Beetz, Logan Lerman, Karen Fukuhara, Masi Oka, Pasha D. Lychnikoff, Miraj Grbić, Karen Fukuhara, Kevin Akiyoshi Ching, Minchi Murakami, Kaori Taketani, Toshitaka Katsumi, Jim Garrity, Channing Tatum and Ryan Reynolds.

Screenplay by Zak Olkewicz.

Directed by David Leitch.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing. 126 minutes. Rated R.

Traveling with the speed of the bullet and the subtlety and mindless destruction and mayhem of a bullet as well, Bullet Train is hurtling towards you.

Whether you want to catch the train, I suppose, depends on your appetite for being pummeled with constant, cartoonish violent action. If you find – say – a train jumping the tracks and slamming through dozens of buildings amusing, then this is the film for you.

If you find constant repetitive chaos – bullets flying, blood splattering, people thrown from speeding trains, cuddly mascots being punched, and just relentless fighting – kind of numbing, you may want to stay on the platform and let Bullet Train pass you by.

I tend to come down on the second side. Bullet Train has some great jokes, some really intriguing ideas, some wild plot twists, and some eccentric characters, but it figuratively (and literally) comes off the tracks long before it hits the end of the line.

Which is kind of a shame, because there is actually a pretty reasonable comedy buried in all of the turmoil. Had they just turned down the crazed action a few levels, I would have probably been a fan.

Perhaps this description from Wikipedia pretty much sums the problem up. “It was… originally intended to be a violent R-rated action thriller film in the same vein of Die Hard, but the project turned into a light-hearted action-comedy film in the style of Hudson Hawk during the development process.”

I’m sorry, I liked the comic parts more than the action parts, but when you’re aspiring to be another Hudson Hawk perhaps you are setting your sights way too low.

Actually, even more to the point is the ad that brags that Bullet Train is “from the director of Deadpool II.” David Leitch also directed Atomic Blonde and Fast and Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw. So, the dude is obviously a specialist in over-the-top, highly stylized action films – sort of like a b-level Michael Bay. (In fairness, of his four films, I actually kind of liked Atomic Blonde.)

The plot – what little of a plot there is – is pretty simple. A whole bunch of ruthless assassins are gathered together on the titular train as it speeds across Japan. No one knows why they were brought there, or even necessarily who the other killers are, but they spend most of the film killing each other (and dozens of innocent bystanders) while essentially destroying the train and many neighboring areas. And at the end of the line is the ultimate assassin, a killer known only as “The White Death.”

That said, in the middle of all the wreckage, strewn about like tiny shards of diamond sprinkled in all the massive amounts of broken glass everywhere, Zak Olkewicz’ screenplay actually has some really solid jokes. These are particularly coming from Brad Pitt’s “Ladybug” – a criminal who is having a life crisis and trying desperately to get out of the murder-for-hire business.

Clever performances by the likes of Pitt, Joey King, Brian Tyree Henry, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson make you wish that the train would slow down enough that we could spend some time getting to know these gonzo types better. I’d have had a better time just watching them crossing and double-crossing each other all the way down the line without all the constant bloodshed.

And yes, I get that this story can’t be told without a certain amount of killing, but sometimes there is something to be said for a bit of moderation. What you don’t see can often be much more affecting than what you do see. Besides, as Pitt’s character tries to explain to anyone who will listen to him (and it seems no one will), “With any conflict, there is an opportunity for growth.”

I’m not naïve enough to think that there isn’t an audience for Bullet Train, though. People who are into the Fast & Furious movies, or Red Notice, or Smokin’ Aces, or the just-released The Gray Man show that there is a hunger for wild, unmitigated violence. People who like those movies will undoubtedly eat Bullet Train up.

For me though, it feels like the whole project missed the train.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: August 3, 2022.

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