Bullet Train (2022)
Bullet Train (2022)

Genre: Action Running Time: 2 hrs. 6 min.

Release Date: August 5th, 2022 MPAA Rating: R

Director: David Leitch Actors: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael Shannon, Sandra Bullock, Zazie Beetz, Logan Lerman, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benito A Martinez Ocasio, Karen Fukuhara

 


 

A

A perpetually bad-luck beleaguered mercenary codenamed “Ladybug” (Brad Pitt) accepts the simple but short-notice job of stealing a briefcase aboard a bullet train headed for Kyoto, Japan. Unfortunately for Ladybug, a whole slew of unsavory characters also wish to obtain the prized portmanteau. Prince (Joey King), a ruthless killer posing as a schoolgirl, desires the luggage for her own nefarious purposes, while barbarous brothers Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are employed by notorious crime-lord “The White Death” to safeguard the satchel. Further complicating matters are vengeful assassins The Wolf (Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio) and The Hornet (Zazie Beetz) as well as a father (Andrew Koji) and grandfather (Hiroyuki Sanada) intent on avenging a vicious attack on their family. Even if Ladybug can outwit and evade this nest of vipers, he’ll also have to contend with an actual snake – a highly venomous boomslang roaming loose aboard the speeding transport.

The timeline is immediately loopy and only gets worse, thanks to jumps backward in time, standard flashbacks, and even recaps to previous scenes. It’s all meant to be mirthful to match the happy-go-lucky lead, who seems to be the kind of fixer who accomplishes all of his outside-the-law missions with blind luck (a trope that is growing in popularity with action comedies). Problematically, every time he faces peril with a smirk and a quip, viewers are going to have a difficult time taking his situation seriously. Few people will want to root for an invincible joker (especially considering there’s no love interest or child or innocent person in need of rescuing, or even a sense of undying honor – his motive is basically just to abandon the assignment early); if he can’t be bothered to worry about his own wellbeing, why should anyone else?

Ladybug is clearly a comic persona, but that doesn’t leave much room for comic-relief supporting roles; yet that’s exactly what every other character is fashioned to be. What “Bullet Train” so woefully needs is a straight man. Even when a blithe exchange or two sticks, they’re not nearly as humorous in the face of a never-ending salvo of funnymen; when everything is tinged with silliness, nothing can retain a much-needed gravity. At least the boarding of the Nippon Speedline takes place promptly and remains the primary battleground for the bulk of the runtime. It’s a moderately interesting setting for an armada of hitmen to stumble through, cross paths, and kill one another. And during those inevitable skirmishes, the film favors the unoriginal but marginally alluring contrast of fast, peppy music presiding over extreme violence and gunplay.

A briefcase MacGuffin at one point finds itself equipped with a bomb, resulting in two background figures wondering if it will blow up in their faces, and why starring roles are never the ones tasked with opening up such an item. This moment tends to sum up the self-awareness of “Bullet Train” – and its insistence on being cheeky and casual when it comes to death and destruction. Though anyone could die at any moment, no one takes that fact to heart; everything is designed to be insincere, sarcastic, and figurative, making it impossible to care about any of the sizable cast. It certainly doesn’t help that everyone is a sociopath or psychopath, fleshed out by bloody flashbacks, each one more stylized and unnecessary than the last. They become even more pointless when these very individualized wackos start dying off shortly after being introduced.

But perhaps the biggest downfall of “Bullet Train” is that it tries too hard. It so frantically wishes to come across as quirky and cool, yet that desperation is painfully obvious – and results in mostly stale or repetitive misadventures and schemes, unable to duplicate the keenly crafted wildness of “Kill Bill” or “In Bruges” – or even “Shoot ‘Em Up” and “Smokin’ Aces” (and, most recently, “Free Fire”). It’s unable to harness that rare balance of humor and realism, as the characters frequently betray their own scripting, behaving unrealistically even within the fantasy-like boundaries of their over-the-top predicaments (ones steeped in CG-modified action sequences, which aren’t terribly innovative for a director who previously worked as a martial artist and stunt double).

Additionally, when a mild surprise pops up, it’s swiftly followed by predictable, derivative events working to drown them out. And while fate is supposed to be a potent idea here, suggesting that these eccentric people are never really in control of their destinies, it simply comes across as a collection of lazy, overbearing coincidences – hindered further by heaps of exposition at the climax (like in the Sherlock Holmes movies from 2009 and 2011). Every confrontation and showdown is ultimately just a setup for a joke, doused in blood and gore as they may be, turning “Bullet Train” into something along the lines of a live-action cartoon, full of uninspired assassins accidentally succeeding in slaughtering one another as they trade pretentious philosophical contemplations. “Why you muthaf@#$%^s using metaphors?!”

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10