Like its title, the film Bullet Train is faster than a speeding bullet with set action pieces galore, cinematography splendid, and CGI manifest. It is alternately silly and stylish, and too long, as is the wont of action directors like Dave Leitch with stuntman and Deadpool 2 in his filmography.
It’s also a mashup of action films like The Lost City, Gray Man, and any James Bond type with quips and irony ratchetted up considerably. Think Murder on the Orient Express, only more so with its murderers murdering themselves aboard the Nippon Speedline.
At least five assassins are riding the same high-speed Japanese train, with a common purpose and a disposition to dispose of enemies by bullets and swords as is culturally appropriate. Chief murderer is “Ladybug” (Brad Pitt), whose therapeutic advice as he delivers a MacGuffin briefcase or his fists is Pulp-Fiction funny (Ladybug: “Because if you put peace out in the world, you get peace back”). He’s in therapy.
Ladybug’s a “snatch and grab” operative delivering that briefcase, hardly a peaceful activity that other assassins also participate in. No Peace Train this. The best rep for all of them is The Prince (Joey King), a sweety pie with a wicked MO. She’s lured a father (Andrew Koji) aboard while her past activity involves shoving his son off a bridge. Not to worry, fate will allow the grandfather (Hiroyuki Sanada) to be aboard as well, and rest assured he has that old thriller staple, revenge, riding with him as well.
Bullet Train is pervaded by Asian-type philosophy and biting dialogue to mix the sublime and the ridiculous into lessons amidst pleasant chaos. “Let this be a lesson on the toxicity of anger!” (Therapist Barry). One car on the train has Kitty-themed seats, a nod to Japan ‘s Hello-Kitty obsession. Think Eastern Pulp Fiction seasoned with characters called White Death, The Hornet, and The Wolf. It’s crazy fun.
The most pervasive motif is fate, which ironically doesn’t make Ladybug lucky but provides facile answers to questions about the randomness of violence aboard the train. An assassin refers to Thomas the Tank Engine in an attempt to understand character, to the exclusion of Diesel from any survival technique.
It's overdone action and philosophy, but set in high-end visuals like Dolby and IMAX theaters. Impressive sight and sound together with a $3 all-beef hot dog and temperature-controlled comfort while you watch an out-of-control adventure. It’s our own little mayhem thumbing noses at COVID and inflation—for just over 2 hours only.
Director: David Leitch (Atomic Blonde)
Screenplay: Kotaro Osaka (Grasshopper), based on his novel, Zak Olkewicz Fear Street: Part Two-1978)
Cast: Brad Pitt (Once a Time in Hollywood), Sandra Bullock (Speed)
Run Time: 2h 6m
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com