With Disney’s THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER and Paramount’s TOP GUN: MAVERICK still showing legs at the cinemas, it’s now SONY’s turn to try and take the box office crown. The highly anticipated BULLET TRAIN has all the ingredients to do it too – a big star, plenty of action mixed with comedy, and a wild premise set in an “exotic” location.
A contract killer (Brad Pitt, THE LOST CITY; ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD) who is given the codename “Ladybug” by his handler, Maria Beetle (Sandra Bullock, THE LOST CITY; OCEAN’S 8), is assigned an easy job after having a run of bad luck. He’s to board the Shinkansen (bullet train) in Tokyo, snatch and grab a briefcase and get off at the next station a few minutes later. It turns out, though, that the job isn’t so easy as Ladybug discovers that a number of competing assassins are also on the train. There’s Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry, ETERNALS; GODZILLA VS. KONG; IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, THE KING’S MAN; TENET), two Cockney “twins” who brought the briefcase onboard; The Wolf (Puerto Rican rapper Benito A Martinez Ocasio), who has a huge grudge against Ladybug; Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji, SNAKE EYES; TV’s WARRIOR), the son of The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada, MORTAL KOMBAT; MINAMATA; AVENGERS: ENDGAME), who has come on the train to kill a teenaged girl nicknamed “The Prince” (Joey King, THE KISSING BOOTH films) for pushing his son off a roof; and The Hornet (Zazie Beetz, JOKER; HIGH FLYING BIRD; DEADPOOL 2), who also wants what’s in the briefcase. Meanwhile, waiting for whoever gets off the train alive in Kyoto is The White Death (Michael Shannon, KNIVES OUT; THE CURRENT WAR; THE SHAPE OF WATER), a ruthless Russian crime boss who has a connection to all of them.
Based on the Japanese novel Maria Beetle by Kotaro Isaka, which was published in English as Bullet Train, the film is cross between THE BIG LEBOWSKI and SNATCH with a bit of PULP FICTION thrown in for good measure. Directed by David Leitch (DEADPOOL 2; ATOMIC BLONDE), BULLET TRAIN follows in the vein of many other highly stylized crime-comedy capers like LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and BE COOL. As the train zips along to its final destination, Ladybug spouts New Age mantras as he takes on his rivals one at a time while trying to convince Maria that bad luck keeps following him wherever he goes. Pitt is all in here and his charisma goes a long way to selling this film even as the story veers perilously close to going off the rails (pun intended). Taylor-Johnson and Henry also pull more than their share of the weight with their amusing banter. It wouldn’t surprise me if these two characters get their own spinoff movie. But back to this film, unfortunately, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve already seen its best parts.
The big disappointment with BULLET TRAIN is that it’s not Japanese enough. I’ve been on the Shinkansen and guess what? Japanese people are on it! Here, there are plenty of gaijin to be seen but very few locals. A couple of cursory scenes with a by-the-book ticket inspector (an underused Masi Oka, THE MEG; TV’s HEROES), an obsequious train attendant (Karen Fukuhara, TV’s THE BOYS), a high-tech toilet and a life-sized anime mascot, give the film some local colour but there’s little else that would distinguish it to be set in Japan. To me this was a missed opportunity because the country has plenty of uniquely quirky things that would garner a few laughs for Western audiences.
All in all, though, BULLET TRAIN is a decent way to spend a couple of hours in air conditioned comfort when it’s boiling hot outside. While it may win the box office crown this weekend, it probably won’t hold it for very long.
BULLET TRAIN opens around the world starting on Thursday (August 4th). Yes, it’s fun but it’s also completely forgettable. In other words, it’s perfect for August.
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