fri 01/12/2023

Bullet Train review - not really a first class ticket | reviews, news & interviews

Bullet Train review - not really a first class ticket

Bullet Train review - not really a first class ticket

Brad Pitt and some superlative set-pieces keep this action comedy on the tracks

If only I'd taken the bus. Brad Pitt in 'Bullet Train'

One of the best scenes in this Brad Pitt starrer takes place in the quiet car of a Japanese bullet train, as two men seek to kill each without leaving their seats or disturbing their fellow passengers. Aside from being amusingly and skilfully executed, the conceit lends the scene a restraint that is sorely missing from the rest of this cartoonishly hyper-active movie.

 It would be churlish to deny Bullet Train’s goofy charm ­and expertly-choreographed action set pieces. But it largely depends on Pitt’s engaging central performance to hold one’s interest whenever its chaotically over-egged, cheeky chappy, sub-Guy Ritchie approach threatens to get too much. And yes, it turns out that there is such as a thing as sub-Guy Ritchie.

Pitt plays one of a number of professional killers who board a train from Tokyo to Kyoto and slowly realise that their individual assignments are connected, to no-one’s benefit. English "twins" Lemon and Tangerine (Brian Tyree Henry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are returning the kidnapped son of infamous gang kingpin White Death to his dad, along with the ransom money; Kimura (Andrew Koji) thinks he is about to kill the person who threw his own, small son off a roof; seemingly innocent schoolgirl Prince (Joey King) has a complicated plan to kill White Death; The Wolf is out for revenge and The Hornet has an assassination target; and Pitt’s Ladybug (pictured below with Taylor-Johnson), returning to service after a crisis of confidence and keen, still, not to actually kill anyone, thinks he’s got a straightforward snatch and grab.

 As the train speeds on its way, these killers lock horns in a variety of deadly combinations. Throw in a highly poisonous snake that’s on the loose, and Yakuza waiting at each of the station stops, and there’s plenty to be getting on with. Nevertheless, director David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) and writer Zak Olkewicz (adapting the pulp fiction book by Kôtôra Isaka) ladle on more and more detail, explication and convolution – whether flashbacks and captions, or the kind of facile character tics and running jokes that Ritchie himself borrowed from Tarantino, the effect becoming naturally more stale each time. Here, it’s Lemon’s infatuation with (of all things) Thomas the Tank Engine, his bible for reading people’s characters, and Ladybug’s obsession with mindfulness techniques, which even Pitt can only make amusing, say, a dozen times.

The Japanese setting is sorely under-used, both visually and thematically (Tarantino achieved so much more with Kill Bill) as are the too few Japanese actors too: it would have been amazing to see Pitt square off in a more meaningful confrontation with the great Hiroyuki Sanada, or if the Japanese-American Karen Fukuhara (Amazon Prime's The Boys) had been given more than a fleeting cameo.

 And yet, the cast as a whole bring goofball panache to proceedings, their delivery making up for the lameness of much of the script: particularly Taylor Johnson and Henry, alongside Pitt, who’s having a ball as the not-so-hapless Ladybug, his sun hat and specs belying serious chops in the hand-to-hand combat department. Meanwhile, Leitch has fun with some of his needle drops (‘Stayin’ Alive’, ‘Holding Out for a Hero’) and his proven gift for fight scenes that combine jaw-dropping choreography with tongue-in-cheek invention is what gives Bullet Train its momentum – most involving Ladybug, whose luck is not half as bad as he thinks it is, and who demonstrates a flair for turning any object into a weapon that would make Jason Bourne return to spy school.

The Japanese setting is sorely under-used, both visually and thematically – Tarantino achieved so much more with Kill Bill


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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