'Bullet Train' review: Bloated and unfunny action caper goes off the rails
Courtesy of Sony
What feels like the poor man’s Tarantino crossed with the stylistic touches of Guy Ritchie’s worst qualities, David Leitch’s “Bullet Train” is a movie so infatuated with its own twee sense of humor, bloody annihilations, and mindless cameos, seldom does it stop to think if the audience is having fun. Despite leading man Brad Pitt, one of the few movie-stars who can get an original movie with a sizable budget greenlit these days, leaning into the script’s sillier elements and boasting the charm that just won him an Oscar, “Bullet Train” goes nowhere, fast.
Outfitted with a stacked ensemble who probably sucked up a good chunk of the films $90 million budget, leaving scraps for the visual effects departments as evident by the bombastic finale with graphics that resemble pre-2000, “Bullet Train” has the tempo cranked to gonzo and exhaustingly dull levels. Leitch, an original mastermind behind the successful “Deadpool” franchise and, at one point, Pitt’s stunt double, has made a career out of choreographing wild action sequences and helping write the hitman code of ethics (see the “John Wick” universe). His usual flair and attention to detail sizzles out within the first twenty minutes of “Bullet Train” once it becomes apparent, thanks to eye-rolling needle drops, obnoxious title card introductions, and people killing each other for no clear reason, he can’t keep the story on track.
Inspired by the bestselling 2010 novel by Japanese author Kotoro Isaka, this lame action-comedy is set aboard a speedy bullet train headed from Tokyo to Kyoto where, like an Agatha Christie novel, a litany of wacky personalities are brought together by fate with their murderous plotting colliding at once. Cue the jump cuts, flashbacks, stabbings, shootings, and venomous snakes in rapid, spit-fire succession which makes you long for the simplicity of “Smokin’ Aces” (words I never expected to say again in my lifetime).
Pitt makes the ride a little less hollow, waltzing on-screen in a bucket hat, nerdy glasses, and an attitude towards resolve rather than punches. He plays a “snatch and grab” for hire nicknamed “Ladybug” sent on the train by his unseen handler (Sandra Bullock sounding board as hell) to retrieve a cash stuffed silver briefcase. It’s an easy job with minimal interaction until it isn’t, and he gets in a bloody tete-a-tete with… Bad Bunny?
Elsewhere on the train sits the other killers: Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Briand Tyree Henry), two cockney accented fellows with an unhealthy (and unfunny) obsession with Thomas the Train, who are transporting the son of an oligarch which they rescued from a gang of thugs and held the money inside the briefcase for ransom purposes. Meanwhile, you’ll spot several bloodthirsty gangsters and one teenager with skin in the game: There’s Joey King’s the Prince, a sociopathic high schooler; a Japanese killer nicknamed “The Father” (Andrew Koji), on a revenge quest after his son was almost murdered, and his elder (screen legend Hiroyuki Sanada).
Even when you think the train has left the station, Leitch and co introduce characters ad nauseum, including Wolf (Benito A Martinez Ocasio), Hornet (Zazie Beetz), and the final boss known as the White Death (Michael Shannon). Each of these performers, none more so than Shannon, are wasted the longer “Bullet Train” slogs on. Occasional spurts of chaotic violence and the boy-ish, cutesy nature of Pitt’s performance are stagnant reminders of the talent corralled here and though it could be enough to convince moviegoers there’s something here, “Bullet Train” overextends and ends up crashing into cinematic oblivion.
BULLET TRAIN opens in theaters Friday, August 5th.