New from Peter Spedale on Be Movie See Movie: Movie Review: Bullet Train

The pedigree for Bullet Train is sky high. David Leitch, the director, helped bring us John Wick and also helmed the sneaky good Deadpool Sequel. Plus he convinced his buddy Brad Pitt to star, which clearly brought along a bunch of talent that makes Leitch’s job of entertaining us even easier. Maybe a little too easy I think because Bullet Train gets a little too close to Mamma Mia! levels of smugness while smoothly coasting along like a Japanese Shinkansen.

Similar to John Wick, we’re in a world filled with assassins and crime underworlds. Fresh out of therapy, Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is eager to get back to working but as the new him. Instead of going right to a gun or violence, he wants to try to talk things out with the person his handler says he has to steal a briefcase from. Talking might be difficult however, because on this train are a host of people coveting this briefcase. Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who did the infamous Bolivia job, have to deliver this briefcase as well as the son (Logan Lerman) to the Red Death, leader of a Russian/Japanese criminal organization, and a new player called The Prince (Joey King) also has a crazy plan for the Red Death, which may or may not involve people called the Father (Andrew Koji) and the Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada).

I know people love Mamma Mia!, so I’m sorry I threw her from the train (Zing!), but the criminal sin of Mamma Mia is that it mistakes “filming laughs” with “legitimate laughs.” Pitt said he read the script during Covid Lockdown, a time when zero laughs existed, and he was probably just imagining hanging out with a bunch of buds/young talent having a great time. The problem is, Pitt only knows how to be a leading man or a comedic sidekick, not a leading comedic man. His Ladybug is sadly better for someone like Ryan Reynolds, or maybe Charlize, who would find a way to make the “reformed hitman” more interesting than just a strange quip machine that undercuts a lot of narrative tension. In fact, most of the interesting character quirks this movie uses are only there for joke runners. I hope you’re up on your Thomas the Tank Engine because that’s weird and fun right? A hitman who compares people he meets to the other Thomas trains? Well, it would have been…in 1992 when Reservoir Dogs defined the pop culture woke hitman, in here it feels a bit forced by the 6 year old who suggested it. The lesson from Bullet Train is simple: “Is it funny? Or were you just Brad Pitt locked down from a pandemic when you read the script:” a wise lesson for every actor.

Thankfully though, Bullet Train has so much acting and directing talent the movie can’t help but be really fun in spurts in spite of itself. This is the most fun Aaron Taylor Johnson has been in a movie since Kick Ass, so much so that I almost wish he and Pitt could have switched roles to give the movie more of his energy. Joey King must have decided this was the year to kick ass herself, between The Princess and this. Here, she’s also a highlight: the smartest person in a room filled with seemingly smart cocky assassins and carrying herself accordingly, certainly against her romcom type. Brian Tyree Henry continues to prove his depth of talent knows no bounds, sort of blending into the mix and finding his niche like he always does. Hiroyuki Sanada, the Japanese legend, is used sparingly enough since he is incapable of being quippy. He gives Bullet Train the gravitas it needs for its third act filled with cameos, twists, crosses, and double crosses which Letich mostly sets up well enough.

There’s plenty of soulless action films out there. Bullet Train thankfully isn’t that. There’s gonna be one character, one cameo, one joke, or one insane Japanese characteristic that you’ll get some joy out of from this film. I forgot how mascot heavy Japan was until Bullet Train reminded me. I’d love to see an American mascot try this at some point; that’s why Japan’s the best!

from Be the Movie, See the Movie

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