“Bullet Train” (2022) – “There’s nothing simple about this job.” – Ladybug (Brad Pitt)
Despite his nickname, Ladybug doesn’t feel lucky. Actually, it’s his codename. Our slim 50-something – who sports spectacles and a bucket hat – is an assassin for hire, so peril is sure to follow his misfortune.
In director David Leitch’s (“Atomic Blonde” (2017), “Deadpool 2” (2018)) latest action flick, Ladybug boards a high-speed train in Tokyo – bound for Kyoto – and his only job is to steal an aluminum briefcase with a small sticker. The said tiny decal is – you guessed it – a train.
Easier said than done, as Leitch and writer Zak Olkewicz throw oodles of hoodlums, ruffians, and desperados – along with the kitchen sink and a coffee maker – in our hero’s way during his attempt to complete this clear-cut task. For 126 minutes, “Bullet Train” races through this caper story at 200 mph, and the hectic pace doesn’t decelerate, not even for introductions of its eccentric players, follow-throughs of their arcs, and countless flashbacks.
Who do we meet? It isn’t easy to keep up with them all, but here’s an earnest attempt with the trusted assistance of IMDb.
Brothers Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) currently possess Ladybug’s targeted item.
Kimura (Andrew Koji) is heartbroken over his son’s near-critical accident, and The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) is the little boy’s grandfather.
Wolf (Bad Bunny) acts like a man possessed, and he’s obsessed with revenge.
Zazie Beetz and Joey King make notable appearances, and Leitch includes not one, not two, but three surprising cameos who won’t be named here in this review.
With some quick math, that’s 11 characters, and this movie feels like “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001) on crack cocaine.
This picture is a bloody, comedic thriller with a figurative neon Midnight Madness billboard that flashes greens, hot pinks, icy blues, 15-dozen quips, plenty of pulp violence, a few Three Stooges acts, and frequent cutaways through dizzying editing.
So, what’s the problem?
The film is over-stylized, overblown, and overdone.
It’s too much.
Too cute, too flashy, too hip, and too quirky. Simply put, “Bullet Train” tries too hard to be a Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie production, and the strain is apparent.
It’s bedlam. While this critic tried to make sense of it all during the first and second acts, most of the jokes didn’t land. At least to me, and possibly it’s because the narrative makes us devote so much time to confusing, shifting backstories for several characters we barely know. Perhaps, it’s because of the script, editing choices, or some unexplained mystery.
For instance, Lemon and Tangerine disagree on the number of kills from the previous job. Was it 16 or 17? The film throws us back to their memories as we slap through various slayings with all the excitement of folding laundry. Compare this moment with a similar scene in “The Suicide Squad” (2021) when Peacemaker (John Cena) creatively knocks off a collection of rebels with goofball, animated precision, and the results are hilarious. Perhaps, it’s because Peacemaker is a physically cartoonish character or Cena is a gifted comedian. However, Lemon and Tangerine’s straight-away executions land like a curiosity rather than laugh-out-loud pomp and circumstance.
Admittedly, I did chuckle or felt amused on occasion, especially with Pitt, who saunters – through this maze of baddies along the narrow hallway(s) of a speeding locomotive – with the dexterity of an acrobat with hitman skills. He’s our glue or lifeline, but Henry and Taylor-Johnson offer movie-star appeal, too, even though their kill retrospective is met with silence or puzzlement.
Certainly, “Bullet Train” attempts to pull every trick in the book, including massive CGI during a few exterior bumps (that aren’t convincing at all). Leitch offers nods to the host country, like Japanese singer Avu-chan’s version of a famous Bee Gees’ song, a mob with a martial arts flair, and repeated referrals to a cartoonish character in the vein of Hello Kitty.
Additionally, David Scheunemann’s production design and Richard Bloom, Chris Farmer, and Nicolas Plotquin’s art direction offer authentic vibes on this claustrophobic, colorful means of transportation. Hey, the interior events generally look great, and Olkewicz’s script – based on Kotaro Isaka’s 2010 novel of the same name – ties up all the loose ends.
If only we had time and space to connect to almost all of these characters, but the film complicates matters by endlessly speeding down its bombastic track.
“Bullet Train” isn’t a wreck, but this movie needed to pump the brakes.
⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Zak Olkewicz, based on Kotaro Isaka’s 2010 novel
Starring: Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Joey King, Zazie Beetz, Masi Oka, Andrew Koji, and Hiroyuki Sanada
Runtime: 126 minutes
Image credits: Sony Pictures Releasing