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Night Train (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 8, 2023


Starring Danny Glover, Leelee Sobieski, Steve Zahn, Matthias Schweighoefer, Takatsuna Mukai, Togo Igawa, Richard O'Brien, Jo Marr, Constantine Gregory, Harry Anichkin, Geoff Bell, Luca Bercovici, Mariana Stanisheva, Desislava Nikolova-Morales and Yana Atanasova Popova.

Screenplay by Brian King.

Directed by Brian King.

Distributed by A-Mark Entertainment. 83 minutes. Rated R.

Once upon a time – oh, about a decade ago – Leelee Sobieski was seen as a future Hollywood “it” girl. With movies like Joy Ride, Deep Impact, Here on Earth, Eyes Wide Shut and the mini-series of Joan of Arc, she seemed like a star about to go supernova – a younger, easier-to-deal-with Helen Hunt (whom Sobieski strongly resembles).

Now, the bloom is off the rose and Sobieski is stuck starring in cheesy claptrap like Night Train.

Oh sure, she still periodically gets good parts – she will have a significant role in Michael Mann’s upcoming Public Enemies with Johnny Depp and Christian Bale – but mostly her career is down in the dregs of In the Name of the King, The Wicker Man and 88 Minutes.

Of course, Sobieski is not the only actor too good to be stuck in this wannabe sci-fi noir – co-stars Danny Glover and Steve Zahn deserve much better than this as well.

Night Train is a variation of that old murder mystery standby – a group of strangers on a train finds a dead body that was traveling with a valuable package and has to decide whether to report it to the police or split the loot amongst them. Of course, it’s not as easily said as done, because the treasure is a mysterious, impregnable box apparently housing a fortune in gems.

Actually, the box is different things to different people. In fact, it’s really just a variation of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. We don’t know exactly what it is or what it does, only that it is vaguely supernatural in that it makes people who look inside see their fondest wish, there are people are willing to kill for it and when it is finally opened it bathes the area in a ray of streaming light. Also, one of the bad guys looking for it says that anyone who looks in the box will die by the next sunrise because their soul will be corrupted. Of course, long ago Quentin Tarantino acknowledged that his briefcase in Pulp Fiction was just a MacGuffin – a complete ruse meant just to further the story – so how are we supposed to look at this box, which is so obviously based upon it, as anything different than an empty plot contrivance?

The uneasy conspirators are: Chloe (Sobieski), a quiet bookish medical student who is changed by the box to be something of a femme fatale; Peter (Zahn) an alcoholic, ruthless and money-hungry salesman; and Miles (Glover) the long-time conductor who has a dying wife he can’t help and a dead-end career. Miles is supposed to be the film’s moral center, but even he is tempted into horrific acts by the corrupting box.

The filmmakers are purposely vague as to what period of time the story happens. The train itself is a grand, beautiful, ornate old beast that looks like it is out of an old 1930s British parlor mystery (the director has obviously never ridden on an Amtrak train) and yet occasionally slightly more up-to-date terms (at least into the 1970s) are tossed out like HMOs and “What’s your 20?”

As the train chugs into the snow-blanketed night, they double-cross each other while they fight off a series of evil-doers also in search of the box. In fact, there were apparently less than ten people on the whole twentyish-car-long train (including the crew) and each person at one point or another turns out to be either in search of the evil trinket or an innocent bystander who will get killed by those fighting over it. One “woman” character was so obviously a guy in drag from the first time you see “her” that the fact that the rest of the characters are surprised by that eventual reveal makes you wonder about their intelligence or even their eyesight.

It’s all very predictable, needlessly gory and kind of ridiculous – leading to a climax where the box must be destroyed before it potentially derails the train.

I won’t tell you whether or not this eventuality happens somewhere down the line – all I can say for sure is that even if it doesn’t, the term “coming off the rails” is sadly way too descriptive of this silly film.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: June 20, 2009.


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