Movie Review: ‘Bullet Train’: Tarantino-Wannabe’s High-Speed ​​Sinking

R | 2h 7m | Action, Thriller, Comedy | August 5, 2022

What do you call a Japanese bullet train full of assassins with guns (and bullets)? A high-speed train. Yuck-yuck.

There are plenty of action movies that take the fun roller coaster ride without forcing the audience to think too much. But there are others so massively stupid that they don’t fit into the guilty pleasure category, but into the category “I feel guilt and shame, I haven’t done enough research and I bought a ticket for this waste of time”. This is why the profession of film critic exists, as a service in order to avoid suffering the paralyzing effect of this last category.

What happens on the high-speed train

Ladybug (Brad Pitt, C) on the phone with her master in “Bullet Train.” (Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Release).

The 2010 novel “Maria Beetle” by Kotaro Isaka offers the following premise: Brad Pitt plays a mercenary, call sign “Ladybug” (for good luck, maybe?), hired to facilitate various kinds of shady outcomes. In other words, he’s an assassin, but we meet him as he joins the fray after a period of therapy and, you know, finds himself, and so Pitt plays Ladybug kind of like a puppy that’s chewed up a few self-help books: It occasionally spits out bland snippets of self-growth wisdom.

His first job back is supposed to be easy; just running away with a metal briefcase on a bullet train bound for Kyoto. But despite its lucky code name, our Ladybug is unlucky; It turns out that the whole train is filled with deadly mercenaries, armed to the teeth with guns, swords, poisons and even grudges. None of them get along. It’s supposed to be funny and Tarantino-esque, but it just isn’t.

Could this be a parody? It doesn’t work as a parody because it’s a yawn party. If it was really funny, maybe. He doesn’t know what he wants to be. Or maybe he knows he wants to be Tarantino, but everyone involved has failed miserably in that endeavor.

List of assassins

The most prominent train assassins are a British crew of two with cockney accents: Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Britain’s Taylor-Johnson wears smart suits with a 70s mustache, as if he came from the set of the “Kingsman” movies. American Henry rocks a silver frosted ‘fro and has a curious weltanschauung; he interprets the world through the “Thomas the Tank Engine” series of children’s books, using it as a sort of alternative tarot card or zodiac system, through which a person’s personality traits can be revealed. He likes to stick little decals of the different types of trains on people’s faces to label them.

two men in plaid jackets in BULLET TRAIN
Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry, L) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are two Cockney-accented killers in “Bullet Train.” (Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Release).

Next up is Prince (Joey King), a schoolgirl who just might be an innocent bystander. But as we know from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Volume 1,” you just can’t afford to trust schoolgirls; they are very dangerous. There’s also Wolf (Benito A Martinez Ocasio also known as Bad Bunny), a heartbroken hitman who seeks revenge.

girl with a pink coat in BULLET TRAIN
Prince (Joey King) is a baby-faced killer in “Bullet Train.” (Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Release).

On top of that, there are plenty of unexpected appearances from familiar faces; some are cameos meant for lukewarm jokes, while others are a bit more central.

Should you buy a ticket for this movie?

Um no. This movie will throw you into a glassy-eyed stupor via crude plot, wannabe hitman dialogue with Tarantino. Lemon and Tangerine are sort of the poor version of hitmen Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) in “Pulp Fiction” and their mundane discussions of things like McDonald’s quarter pounds with cheese in between. shots.

And then there’s the film’s main gimmick: the train set. The are good films that show how to take advantage of the confined space of a train to their advantage like “Train to Busan” and “Snowpiercer”.

two men fight in BULLET TRAIN
Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, L) tries out Ladybug (Brad Pitt), in “Bullet Train.” (Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures)

Inventive examples of close-quarters hand-to-hand combat on public transport abound. But if all the fights take place in a train car, there are only a limited number of combinations and permutations of surprising situations that you can create, no matter how many katana swords and vipers you have there. throw in to spice things up. Remember “Snakes on a Plane?” It’s snakes on a train.

two men fight in BULLET TRAIN
Ladybug (Brad Pitt, L) defends herself against Wolf (Bad Bunny), in “Bullet Train”. (Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Release).

Finally, tonally, “Bullet Train” is as self-satisfied as Napoleon Dynamite wearing his soft brown suit and moon boots to prom, and the main reason for that sickening complacency is Pitt. There might be a school of thought that says Pitt is the film’s raison d’être. There really isn’t a time, ever, where Brad Pitt hasn’t been likable, but he’s also definitely to blame for this mess. His fame, and especially his career as a bodyguard who beat Bruce Lee in Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, is what gave the green light to this project. You’d think that with his sense of integrity, being aboard “Bullet Train” would have enhanced quality control, but even the presence of action master Antoine Fuqua, here as producer, doesn’t help. couldn’t have stopped “Bullet Train” from going off. rails.

Which is kind of crazy. Because in addition to quality powerhouses Pitt and Fuqua, you have David Leitch, the director, a seasoned stunt coordinator. Leitch’s work on the originals “John Wick” and “Atomic Blonde” would lead one to believe that “Bullet Train” might be of the same kinetics, but no. Every time fights happen, the movie waters it down with another flabby joke, so each battle ends up being more hollow slapstick than well-crafted stunts, with nothing memorable to be remembered.

woman attacks man on high-speed train
Kayda Izumi Concession Girl (Karen Fukuhara) takes a swipe at Ladybug (Brad Pitt) in “Bullet Train.” (Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Release).

It’s supposed to be Tarantino-esque, and cute, and Antoine Fuqua-riveting-action-y, and hilarious, but it’s none of those things.

Miss this train.

movie poster for
Bullet Train movie poster.

“High-speed train”
Director: David Leitch
With: Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Joey King, Sandra Bullock, Michael Shannon, Bad Bunny, Andrew Koji
MPAA Rating: R
Duration: 2 hours, 7 minutes
Release date: August 5, 2022
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

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