‘Bullet Train’ review: Brad Pitt movie is sleek but shallow

Everyone get on the Bullet Train! The Tokyo to Kyoto Express has it all, but most importantly, lots of highly skilled assassins with conflicting goals, including a deranged Brad Pitt as the snatch-n-grab guy named Ladybug, a pair of British brothers named Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor -Johnson), a naughty schoolgirl with big ambitions (Joey King), a grieving groom known as the Wolf (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny), and a woman who works with poisons named Hornet (Zazie Beetz). There is also a snake, a very poisonous snake.

That should keep them all busy for the duration of the trip, one night, and sure enough, director David Leitch doesn’t slow things down a minute. That’s both the glory and the downfall of Bullet Train, a slick, slick and flat slice of Japanophile action-entertainment that offers a very bright, glossy finish but has absolutely no interest in revealing anything beyond that.

Adapting the screenplay from Japanese crime writer Kotaro Isaka’s 2010 book Maria Beetle, Zak Olkewicz brings a playful, tongue-in-cheek tone to the script, which despite all the chaos is fast, tight, and deceptively simple. All you need to know is that Ladybug is supposed to get a briefcase, Lemon and Tangerine have to guard the briefcase and a lot of people want the briefcase. These folks rock bloody, up, down, in, out, and around the train to get their hands on this piece of Samsonite, and by the end we’ll all be wondering: Was it worth it?

The characters, who aren’t cutely named after animals, bugs, or citrus fruits, are given archetypes to inhabit: the Father (Andrew Koji), the Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada), the Prince (King), the White Death (Michael Shannon). They have to deal with the more substantive themes of fate, family and revenge because they inform the audience of what they are dealing with, but these ideas are merely presented, not complicated or transcended in any way. After all, we have to catch a train.

Leitch, the director of “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2” and executive producer of two “John Wick” films, keeps the action center stage while throwing various enemies at his star, Pitt. The main appeal of Bullet Train is that the global cast is incredibly appealing, and like clockwork, we see Pitt battle Ocasio, Henry, Taylor-Johnson, and Beetz in turn. Meanwhile, Ladybug flirts and fools around and munches, alternating lamentations about his bad luck and therapeutic platitudes that sound like something a school principal might use. But who is Ladybug anyway? He’s just a cipher, a proxy, not a hero to believe in.

Who is the hero anyway? Is it the father desperately trying to save his young son? Or the eldest, his own father who swore to protect his family? Both are sadly sidelined to prioritize the High Jinks and Ultraviolence. Henry’s Lemon comes close, but Bullet Train really lacks a hero to cheer for. There’s a reason this storytelling structure works.

The bright color palette and bold tone are, in a way, a refreshing antidote to the gray haze that’s been covering big, bombastic blockbusters lately. But the smug humor feels dated and cheesy, and finally the film makes it extremely difficult to care for the film’s refusal to reveal even a crumb of the inner workings of these killer characters. As the final act descends into a truly deafening and chaotic cacophony of mayhem and cameos, it’s hard to see the value of “Bullet Train,” a sparkling ball of retro costume jewelry that’s fun for a lark but ultimately sucks .

‘fast train’

MPAA rating: R (for strong and gory violence, ubiquitous language and brief sexuality)

Duration: 2 hours, 6 minutes

To play: In theatres

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-08-07/bullet-train-review-brad-pitt ‘Bullet Train’ review: Brad Pitt movie is sleek but shallow

Sarah Ridley

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