REVIEW: Don’t punch your ticket for ‘Bullet Train’

Stop this train, I want to get off.

Director David Leitch’s “Bullet Train” stars Brad Pitt as an assassin whose code name is Ladybug. The film picks up with him getting on a train with a mission that only includes recovering a brief case that two other men have in their possession.

Those two passengers are also hit men, who simply go by Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Ladybug, who constantly notes how he has bad luck in life, ends up learning that there’s much more going on than he first thought and that the mission is increasingly dangerous.

“Bullet Train” is like a Quentin Tarantino film, just not nearly as good and without long takes of feet. The edgy dialogue and ultra-violent scenes, plus the humor around everyday topics, is all there, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

In fact, it gets downright exhausting the more this film goes on. The picture is just over two hours, but it started to feel like three, especially when you think it’s going to end and it never seems to.

It also doesn’t help that the film is needlessly convoluted, to the point where every character seemingly needs a flashback introduction. It’s like the film wanted these flashbacks to impress the audience by how things are tying together, but it feels more like the runtime is being padded.

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Courtesy Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures.

By the time it gets to the final twists in the movie, it gives a viewer less of a shocked feeling and more of a ‘fine, whatever’ reaction.

There’s not much going on with the film on a deeper level to create some intrigue either, other than a very loose look at the ideas of fate and luck. More often than not it’s just to set up a punch line anyways.

“Kung Fu Panda” honestly did it better with a turtle simply saying “there are no accidents” than this film attempted to do in two hours.

That’s not to say “Bullet Train” needed to be that deep at all, but even as an action comedy romp, it doesn’t really work. This is partially because the humor isn’t all that funny.

The film pretty much has two options when it comes to comedy. The first is basically ‘these are hardened assassins but they’re acting nonchalant and completely normal about their jobs.’ The film does nothing new with the concept, it’s just a tired retread of something that’s been done better in other movies.

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The other is the character Lemon being inspired by life lessons from “Thomas the Tank Engine.” I guess it’s supposed to be funny because it’s random and a kid’s show, plus they’re on a train?

It’s something that doesn’t land the first time, or the many, many times they use it again. The short gag in “Ant-Man” was a better use of “The Tank Engine” than this.

The action is the only area where the movie gets some locomotion. There are a few solid fight scenes in the flick, including one where Pitt’s character has to fight off an assailant armed with a knife using only a briefcase. There are two issues undercutting the action, though.

One is that there’s limited action until the climax, and by that point one is weary of the picture. The second is it’s hard to get invested in the characters, making it difficult to care about their fate in a fight.

Pitt of course is a talented performer and his natural charisma helps make Ladybug an entertaining character. While entertaining because of Pitt’s screen presence, though, he’s not all that interesting.

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Ladybug, and most of the other characters featured, are just smug caricatures who spout off dialogue from a script that’s not nearly as clever as the writers thought it was. Many of the characters like Lemon and Tangerine, as well as another assassin named Prince (Joey King) are more often annoying than amusing.

The only character who’s actually interesting to follow is Kimura (Andrew Koji), a man who’s in the Japanese mob whose son is in a hospital. To ensure his son is kept safe, Kimura is forced to get involved with the dangerous situation on the train. It’s good motivation and he’s the only one who feels a bit real.

Speaking of Koji, him and one other character are the only Japanese performers featured prominently in the picture. This is a film set in Japan, with Kanji used on screen when characters are introduced, and a lot of Japanese pop culture included, yet it only has two actors who are actually Japanese as the main characters, and not even the main character.

“Bullet Train” is a slog to get through, and if not for its talented cast and a few good action set pieces, it would be even more of a train wreck. 1.5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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