For the first twenty minutes or so of the new, manic action thriller BULLET TRAIN, I resisted the flow, with the sinking feeling that I was watching a mashup of Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino’s discarded ideas.
Then, damned if Brad Pitt and a relentlessly surprising and funny cast didn’t settle me in for a crazy and enjoyable ride.
Pitt is at his relaxed, hilarious best as Ladybug, a contract killer just out of therapy and ready to solve every conflict with words instead of bullets. His first mission turns into a nightmare when he realizes he’s one of five assassins on board a bullet train to Kyoto.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Tenet, Nocturnal Animals) is a blast as Tangerine, one half of a killer duo with his brother from another mother Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry). Their staccato banter is pure Tarantino, crafted by Zak Olkewicz with profane, irreverent humor that I think QT would appreciate. The boys are on board the train guarding the son of White Death, played by a surprise major star who is having a lot more fun here than most of his roles allow him.
Joey King (The Conjuring) is Prince, a very lethal young killer hiding behind the façade of a young schoolgirl. Musician/Actor Bad Bunny rounds out our five killers as Wolf, born in the streets and avenging the love of his life.
Hiroyuki Sanada rises above all as The Elder, pulled into the story when his son Kimura (Andrew Koji providing the dramatic core of the film) is threatened. Sanada brings the same strong, quiet, and powerful presence that he has in films like “The Last Samurai”. He’s fantastic.
Throw all these characters on a 200mph train, toss is several more very funny cameos from big stars, and you’ve got a non-stop adventure that kept a smile on our faces. I laughed out loud at all of Ladybug’s efforts to get off the train at every stop. Watching Tangerine try to get back on after being left off the train is even funnier.
Director David Leitch started his career as Pitt’s stunt double and stunt coordinator. He brings the same frantic, violent and jaw dropping style that he fostered on the John Wick films and Atomic Blonde with Charlize. He’s got style to spare and a deft hand at mixing humor into the action, just as he did as director of “Deadpool 2”.
As QT does in his films, Leitch and team bathe the action in an eccentric mix of music from start to finish. ”Stayin’ Alive” covered by Avu-chan opens the film as Ladybug strolls through Tokyo. Engelbert Humperdink’s “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” floats over a death scene, while Pussy Riot and Kyu Sakamoto drift in and out for big laughs. Asakura Miki’s version of “Holding Out for a Hero” is crazy and perfect during the jaw dropping climax.
Pitt did about 95% of his own stunts and continues his recent roll, the Zen center of the madness. When White Death boards the train in Kyoto for the final showdown, all hell breaks loose, and the film manages to top itself for a brainless but enjoyable finale.
BULLET TRAIN is one crazy, bloody, hilarious thrill ride.
Check your brains when you board, get ready for more Thomas the Tank Engine references than you ever thought possible in an R-rated movie and enjoy yourself.
BULLET TRAIN speeds to a solid B.