Review: Bullet Train
Matthew Bowden, Screen Editor, struggles to find much to enjoy in Brad Pitt’s latest star vehicle, Bullet Train.
Bullet Train is conclusive proof of the deceptive power of movie trailers. In a two-minute dose where you can cram in the best jokes and best-looking action sequences, it looks like a flippant, highly enjoyable romp in the manner of Matthew Vaughn’s first Kingsman – something that doesn’t take itself too seriously whilst delivering some exciting, stylised violence. The unfortunate two hour plus reality is a film that roughly resembles Guy Ritchie’s take of Kill Bill on a train, and it ends up being about as good as that sounds.
Brad Pitt is the one in the driver’s seat of this star vehicle, playing a bumbling assassin codenamed “Ladybug” who has been downgraded to the seemingly simple task of retrieving a briefcase stashed on a bullet train. Unbeknown to him, there are a plethora of different individuals on the same train, all with their own various plot strands, whose fates will end up being extraneously tied to the briefcase in one convoluted way or another. There’s “Lemon” (Brian Tyree Henry) and “Tangerine” (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), two bickering brothers whose job it is to guard the MacGuffiny object, and, surprise surprise, they’re not very good at it. They’re in service of a mystical crime boss ominously called “White Death”, who is the subject of Tarantino-style vengeance from a schoolgirl (Joey King) and a father seeking revenge (Andrew Koji).
The unfortunate two hour plus reality is a film that roughly resembles Guy Ritchie’s take of Kill Bill on a train, and it ends up being about as good as that sounds.
Evidently, there’s a lot going on and the plot lurches precariously on the edge of the rails throughout, never really becoming anything other than perfunctory. The Guy Ritchie comparisons are plentiful; most clear in the London geezer-style dialect adopted by the two brothers. This works out disastrously in the case of Henry, whose accent does a full UK tour, even at times crossing the Northern border, without ever settling in one location. It’s unavoidably bad, rivalling Don Cheadle’s efforts in the Ocean’s film series. Henry’s “Lemon” is also lumped with a painfully unfunny obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine (yes really) which he repeatedly references and relies upon as a philosophical determinant of someone’s character. The word thankless might well have been invented for this role.
Like most B-movie types with a massive A-list star, a lot hinges on Pitt to guide the film through the wreckage. And while he provides most of the sparse comedy moments, he is essentially playing a toned-down, spiritual guru version of Cliff Booth on acid from the end of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Again, it comes down to dosage. 10-15 minutes of that type of shtick is hilarious but at feature film length, you almost want to join the train nasties in shutting him up with a hard, blunt #object. Almost.