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BULLET TRAIN (2022) review

August 15, 2022


written by: Zak Olkewicz
produced by: Kelly McCormick, David Leitch & Antoine Fuqua
directed by: David Leitch
rated: R (for strong and bloody violence, pervasive language, and brief sexuality)
runtime: 126 min.
U.S. release date: August 5, 2022 (theatrical)


While slowly driving past a movie theater in a Chicago suburbs, one of the movies listed on the marque was, “Brad Pitt”. Now, there is no movie currently out called “Brad Pitt”, but I immediately knew what the theater meant and chuckled. This was not an electronic LED marquee, but rather one of those great old ones in which an employee would come out and use an extension to place each black letter on a white background. Maybe they were all out of the letter “L” to spell, “Bullet Train” the latest movie starring Brad Pitt or maybe the theater just knew that the draw of Brad Pitt is more powerful than a locomotive.

Last week, when I came home from seeing “Bullet Train”, my wife was alarmed when I told her what movie I saw without her. “You went and saw the new Brad Pitt movie without me?” It might’ve been better off just calling it “Brad Pitt”.

It would seem that few plan on catching “Bullet Train” to see the latest action flick from helmed by director David Leitch, but maybe they should. After all, he co-directed (albeit in an “uncredited” capacity) the first “John Wick” hit and followed that with two comic book adaptations, “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2”, and his last action behemoth was the Fast & Furious spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw” from 2019. However you felt about those movies, the guy knows his way around action movies. Not to mention the fact that he spent years before any of thoem doing stunt work – in fact, he was Pitt’s stunt double for five of his films from “Fight Club” to “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” – and shooting 2nd Unit for a plethora of movies (“The Wolverine” and “Captain America: Civil War”). If anything, Leitch has quickly become known as a director that delivers hardcore, adrenalized action movies with a penchant for painful injuries, maiming or sudden deaths, all delivered with a certain degree of dark humor.



For “Bullet Train,” Leitch doesn’t set out to break any molds or veer too far off course from the type of fare he’s provided before. Working off a screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, who is adapting a 2010 Japanese dark comedy thriller novel Maria Beetle by Kōtarō Isaka, Leitch and the film’s producers have chosen to Americanize the material. That’s not a surprise considering it was made by Sony Pictures and a diverse cast headlined by a “name actor” (Brad Pitt), but it’s definitely earned some criticism even before the movie was released. While the setting is still on the titular vehicle (a Tohoku Shinkansen Hayate train), many of the characters have either been gender-swapped or changed from Japanese to white, and again, it’s not surprising nor does it take away from the viewing experience – at least not for those unfamiliar with the source material.

Pitt plays Ladybug, an assassin who’s recently spent more time in therapy than he has on any jobs, quite possibly due to what he believes is his chronic bad luck. When we meet him, he’s boarding a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto, while engaging in a hands-free conversation with his handler, Maria Beetle, who serves as a personal motivator, walking him through the steps of this specific assignment, which is to procure a briefcase somewhere on the train. Sounds simple enough, but then again, this guy is supposedly prone to bad luck.

As expected, there are others on the train who also want this briefcase and therein lies the challenge of the simple and thin plot, leading to the violent and comedic fun of “Bullet Train”. Granted, the violence is probably more gruesome than moviegoers would expect from a “Brad Pitt Action Flick”, but those who are aware of Leitch’s work will expect no less.



The briefcase in “Bullet Train” serves as the MacGuffin and unlike the one in “Pulp Fiction”, we learn right away that it holds $10 million in ransom money. It’s in the possession of two assassin brothers, Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), who’ve been hired by White Death – the leader of the world’s largest crime syndicate who overtook the Japanese criminal underworld – to retrieve the money along with his son (an indistinguishable Logan Lerman). These two are a little leery since they kinda botched a job for White Death in Bolivia, which maybe explains why they aren’t very good at keeping the briefcase within eyesight. Ladybug will inevitably encounter the brothers, but his first altercation is with The Wolf (Bad Bunny), a Mexican cartel hitman, whose thin backstory comes to us via flashback. Also on the train is The Prince (Joey King), a British mercenary sitting in first class, overlooked due to her appearance as a schoolgirl. Her goal is make life miserable for Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji) and she started that by pushing his son off the roof of an apartment building (another flashback), which left the boy hospitalized. This action also lures the boy’s grandfather, The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) into action, who is underestimated due to his age. Eventually and inevitably, Ladybug must face down each of these suspicious characters, resulting in comical carnage, snappy banter, and smirking Brad Pitt.

As indicated in the inescapable trailer, which played ad nauseum for months leading up to the August release, you get exactly what you’d expect from “Bullet Train”. The screenplay is like a straightforward train route going from destination A to B, with no stops or delays – although, you can count on a derailed third act that puts a ridiculously catastrophic exclamation point on the whole affair. This makes it hard to believe the movie is based on a coherent book, but one could assume the characters backstories and present-day arcs are more fully realized in prose form than what we see come to life on the big-screen.

Leitch immediately establishes the comedic tone and kinetic style as “Bullet Train” opens. Pitt’s long-haired, scruffy-looking Ladybug is introduced to us while cluelessly walking down a Hong Kong street to a Japanese version of “Stayin’ Alive” (as seen in the trailer). He dons a floppy bucket hat while coming across as a slightly dim bulb and somewhat neurotic character and once he boards the titular vehicle his journey through each train car feels like a different level of a video game. Introduce a new threat, let the smackdown commence, and move on to the next train car…er, game challenge. Again, if that’s what you’re anticipating then you’re disappointment level will be kept at bay.



Now, if you’re expecting a story to be told here, please check the train schedule at your station for the next action flick. “Bullet Train” offers constant introduction of smug lunatics and their distinctive personalities more than it does provide a convincing and/or compelling tale of assassins and mercenaries going off the rails (pun intended). One of the subplots, between Prince and Yuichi, offer a rare example of a story that could be developed into something larger in and of its own. Of the antagonists that flesh out the supporting characters, the ones who stand out the most are the brothers played by Taylor-Johnson and Tyree Henry. In their matching black-and-white checkered jackets and witty rapid-fire dialogue, their character’s personalities certainly shine through, however too much comedy from these two tends to lessen the threat, leaving viewers with the challenge of taking the threats that “Bullet Train” offers seriously.

Leitch certainly takes a “more is more” approach to the choreographed stunt work and gratuitous bloodshed with plenty of room for big performances (aka overacting) throughout. Overall, it was fun to check-out and lose myself in all the noise and chuckle at all the cameos – it wasn’t ruined for me, so I won’t ruin it here (although be warry of what you see online). As mentioned, “Bullet Train” goes off the rails in its climax (more like climaxes) with broad swing attempts at both humor and horror, with Pitt (or his double) working overtime to make things happen. The movie may not succeed as well as Leitch’s previous outings, but when this is currently the only action offering in theaters, it’s not a total waste of time.

“Bullet Train” is currently reigning supreme at the box office in an August isn’t out to draw moviegoers to theaters. This “Brad Pitt” action flick is definitely the kind of escapism people are familiar with, albeit not necessarily the kind they’re clamoring for.


RATING: **12



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