One way ticket: Brad Pitt plays a bemused assassin in ‘Bullet Train’
BULLET TRAIN *** (126 minutes) MA
Anyone who dares to follow the garbled plot of the enjoyable, feather-light, hyper-kinetic action-comedy Bullet Train deserves a medal – and perhaps some aspirin to get rid of the headache that would surely follow.
Heading the frantic, and very loud, proceedings in what is essentially a prolonged showcase of close-quarters stuntwork with jokes thrown in is an unadorned Brad Pitt, here playing a professional killer preoccupied with Zen-type notions of fate and luck.
Code-named Ladybug – a symbol of good luck, so don’t fault the film for not being deep – he’s assigned the relatively straightforward, non-lethal task of boarding a bullet train in Tokyo, stealing a suitcase full of money, and getting off at the next stop.
Naturally, things turn out to be not-at-all as simple as that, thanks to Tangerine and Lemon (Aaron Taylor-Johnson Brian Tyree Henry), two comic hitmen who are good at killing people, not so good at keeping an eye on the suitcase full of money they’re supposed to be minding on behalf of a mysterious masked crime lord called White Death (Michael Shannon), whose son (Logan Lerman) is also in their care.
The plot rapidly snowballs into a scribble of sub-plots that make way for a nifty procession of fights and shootouts. These involve an increasing number of professional killers who hop aboard the train, its manifest of regular passengers conveniently disappearing into thin air to allow all the well-mounted mayhem to unfurl without hindrance.
Director David Leitch is well-credentialled, having served up Atomic Blonde (a very underrated Charlize Theron actioner), Deadpool 2 (a very overrated Marvel superhero spoof), John Wick and the Fast & Furious sideshow Hobbs & Shaw.
It’s an understatement to note that the emphasis here is on action, fast editing and tumbling camerawork, not on Oscar-worthy performances.
To wit, most of the dialogue in the film is spouted at the speed of a bullet train, often shouted in loud mumbles as though the actors were handicapped with a mouth full of marbles.
Thankfully, the actors are intelligible enough for the film’s many jokes to land, with Pitt’s encounter with a high-tech Japanese toilet a memorable highlight. The guys should do more comedy.
The rush of exposition pumped out in the film’s final reel suggests that if you’re crazy enough to map out the film’s scramble of plots on paper it’d all actually come together.
Yet trying to make sense of the film is not only not worth the effort for what is clearly a throwaway serving of high-gloss, hyper-kinetic action, it’d take the fun out of the mayhem.
Oh, also, there’s a deadly snake on the train. Just in case things weren’t quite loopy enough.