Brad Pitt Saves ‘Bullet Train’ from Oblivion
If you are one that still needs proof that movie stars matter, this latest from director David Leitch (a former stuntman who also directed Atomic Blonde, 2017) and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz (adapted from Kotaro Isaka’s 2010 novel, Maria Beetle) may be submitted as evidence. Replace Brad Pitt with almost any other actor, and Bullet Train becomes borderline unwatchable. However, with the Oscar-winner, there is sufficient charm, humor, and entertainment to keep us around for the more than two-hour run time.
Mr. Pitt stars as Ladybug, a floppy bucket hat wearing last-minute fill-in for an assassin who called in sick. His handler (voiced by Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock) walks him through what is supposed to be a simple snatch-and-grab job involving a briefcase. Of course, it turns out to be anything but simple as the train is filled with what seems to be an endless stream of contract killers intent on securing the same briefcase. Among those are Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry). Mr. Taylor-Johnson continues his tradition of over-acting and lacking the charm he believes he has, while Mr. Henry’s obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine at least gives his character a reason for us to be annoyed. The two are referred to as British brothers or even ‘twins,’ which gives you some idea of what the film wants you to buy as humor.
A slew of other characters include Joey King as Prince, the “Shibumi” reading type who pushes a kid off a roof, and then uses her skill of crying-on-demand to escape most danger; Andrew Koji as Kimura, that kid’s distraught father; Hiroyuki Sanada as Kimura’s father; Zazie Beetz as The Hornet; rapper Bad Bunny as Wolf; Logan Lerman as the son of a Russian gangster, and Lerman spends much of the movie auditioning for the title character in Weekend at Bernie’s; and Michael Shannon as said Russian gangster, White Death. Beyond all of these highly recognizable folks, we also get two very high-profile cameos, both used for comic effect.
In between the one-minute stops on the trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, there is an abundance of fighting – comical, rapidly-paced, and violent – using such available props as the features on a smart toilet, knives, guns, swords, poison, bombs, and a venomous (incorrectly labeled as poisonous in the movie) Boomslang snake. Since most of the action takes place on the train, we get action in passenger cars, the galley, the lounge, the control booth, and even on top of the speeding train.
It’s Pitt’s character who keeps us interested, and the movie drags when he is off-screen. Ladybug is a skilled improvisational fighter, although his recent personal growth through therapy has him eschewing guns, dwelling on his inherent bad luck, and reciting affirmations and wisdoms, when he can remember them. Mostly, by golly, he just wants to be a nicer person (quite a short trip for a contract killer). This chaos and spontaneous convention of bad players were all part of White Death’s plan, which is revealed late in the film.
It appears director Leitch (a former renowned stuntman) worked diligently to create a new form of zany by blending Guy Ritchie’s best work with Tarantino’s Kill Bill films and then adding a dash of “who-done-what-to-whom?” Instead, with the near slapstick action and goofy dialogue, it plays more like a modern-day Cannonball Run, which was also directed by a former stuntman (the legendary Hal Needham). As a bonus, we also get the Japanese version of “Stayin’ Alive,” replete with Brad Pitt strutting through Tokyo in tennis shoes.