Review: Bullet Train

By Christian DiMartino

David Leitch’s Bullet Train is a fun movie until it isn’t. Here is a stylish, glossy, violent, occasionally fun movie that, by the time it reached its destination, left me exhausted and wanting off the ride. It’s sure to do decent business at the box office this weekend, and I’m all in on movies doing decent business. Even if it’s not exactly… decent.

Leitch was an uncredited co-director on the first John Wick, and has since gone on to make Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, and Hobbs & Shaw. I like nearly all of those movies, and all of the ingredients (and some of the cast members, in surprise cameos) are present in Bullet Train. It has quick editing, one-liners, and it’s mega-violent. I liked things in this movie, but then this feeling crept over me at about the hour mark: the feeling that there was still an hour left. And boy, getting to the finish line felt like a chore at times, even if there are a few pleasures along the way. Just not quite enough of them to successfully land the plane… I mean train.

The film finds a bunch of people that I really like, and a lot of them are doing pretty thick, wonky accents. Not doing an accent, but leading the pack, is Brad Pitt. Here he plays Ladybug, an assassin who has been going through some mental breakthroughs and is taking on a quick job in Japan. The job is that he’s supposed to acquire a suitcase from off of a bullet train and deliver it to his boss (the identity of his boss wasn’t a surprise to me, but in case you don’t know, I won’t spoil it).

Trouble is, with the bullet train, you’re only allotted one minute to get off at your destination. So things get in the way. Trouble also arrives because there are other deadly people aboard this train who also have their sights set on this suitcase. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry play Tangerine and Lemon, two assassins who are to transfer a young guy (Logan Lerman) and bring the suitcase to their boss, who is known as The White Death (Michael Shannon). In both cases, things go awry. Joey King is also aboard as Prince, who is holding Andrew Koji’s Kimura hostage for her own motives. All of these people meet, and if you haven’t heard, violence ensues.

I liked what the actors were up to here. I’ve missed out on a good bulk of King’s acting career, mostly because she stars in things that I can’t sit through with a straight face, but she actually fits this role like a glove, and it was nice to see her having fun with villainy. I liked Tyree Henry, as I usually do, but there is a flaw to this character and I’ll get to that in a bit. I loved Taylor-Johnson here though, and he pretty much stole the movie. Which is interesting because Brad Pitt is at the center of this movie. Pitt is fine, and he’s having a fun time, but maybe the bar has simply been raised too high for him.

This seemed like it was probably a really fun movie to make, so in that regard I’m happy to see everyone having a good time. There are moments of genuine humor- my favorite sequence involves Pitt and Taylor-Johnson, the suitcase and a couple of mobsters. In particular though, the look of this movie is pretty cool. The production design of the train itself is pretty dazzling, as is the cinematography, which is top-notch. There are also some pretty surprising cameos here, and they’re all fun.

There are good things in Bullet Train, and perhaps those good things are enough to make the movie worth seeing. It just felt like a long sit after a while, and for each of its strengths, it also feels like there’s a weakness to counter it. The movie does have a sense of humor, but perhaps it should’ve been less jokey. Because often times, the momentum of the plot is slowed down for people to wisecrack. Tyree Henry gives a good performance, but he’s also unfortunately given a character that is one-note. Lemon has an obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine, and of course the idea that that is being mentioned amidst this very violent scenario is funny. Except that seems to be his character’s only trait, and they beat the joke into the ground by about the 100 minute mark.

They honestly just sort of beat the movie into the ground by the 60 minute mark. Here is a movie that is watchable, but it’s perhaps a little too much of a so-so thing for it to sustain its two-hour runtime. It has humor, but isn’t often hilarious. It either needed to be hilarious, or played completely straight, with touches of humor (watching this, I kept wondering how much better it would’ve been if Guy Ritchie had written it). Most of all though (and I felt this way many times during the last half) this movie should’ve been 85 minutes.

So much time is spent on the banter and the small talk that it drags the movie out further than it really needs to be. There are events that transpire in the last 25 minutes that might’ve been funny, but I was so exhausted and eager for the movie to end that, simply, it didn’t matter to me. Even the look of the final act, in which Leitch incorporates an overload of CGI, begins to suffer, which is a shame because much of this movie looked pretty beautiful.

There is a better movie in Bullet Train than the one I witnessed, but who knows, maybe you’ll have a great time with it. I hope you do, and the movie certainly hopes you do too. There was vocal laughter in the theatre, so there’s a sign that it will be for someone. I just wasn’t quite that someone. It’s a handsome-looking, occasionally successful movie in need of an edit. It’ll probably do well whenever it hits Netflix. At least you’ll have the luxury of a fast-forward button.

One response to “Review: Bullet Train”

  1. […] done so well. It’s also 100 minutes, which is just wonderful (unlike this weekend’s Bullet Train though, I could’ve watched more of this). Guys, take […]

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