Bullet Train: Derailed by an Overstuffed Story

“Bullet Train” is an action-comedy film directed by David Leitch, screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, and based on the novel by Kôtarô Isaka. David leach was once a stuntman and is now making popular action flicks (Atomic Blonde) and (Deadpool 2). Creatively using humor and dazzling methods of acts of violence aboard a high-speed train and the likes of Brad Pitt couldn’t save “Bullet Train” from mediocrity.

Brad Pitt plays the main protagonist, Ladybug; a professional assassin convinced he’s cursed with “bad luck.” After a sabbatical, Ladybug is the new and improved version of himself who no longer wants to do assassin things. His latest mission sends him to Japan to steal a briefcase full of goodies on a high-speed locomotive. An ongoing theme is that he doesn’t want to kill anyone, yet miraculously they end up dying bizarrely. 

On this train is a rogue’s gallery of comedically nicknamed hit people whose fates are intertwined. Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Latin gangster, the Wolf (rapper Bad Bunny), and seemingly an innocent young woman, Prince (Joey King), who ends up being more malicious than she’s led to be. The assassins are either after the briefcase or looking to kill someone else. Ladybug wants to secure the case peacefully and leave, but his encounters with the assassins make that impossible. 

Brad Pitt has been cast in solid films over the last decade. Pitt has such a likable presence, which continues in “Bullet Train.”The idea that a protagonist who’s an assassin has essentially become a passivist who would instead work something out peacefully is entertaining and a great contradiction to what Pitt’s character does for a living. He’s confused about what kind of luck he has, but he gets out of several sticky situations that would’ve killed most people. 

The film has quick-witted banter and dialogue, like in “Deadpool 2”. What “Bullet Train” does right is create amusing characters, especially Lemon and Tangerine. The duo has a deep past; they consider each other brothers. When involved in a life-or-death situation, they crack jokes, but when their story gets serious, it hits you in the feels. Leitch serves up action scenes that are phenomenally well choreographed. The actors were hands-on, which made the stunts look believable. The train’s bright-colored production design is easy on the eyes. 

Where “Bullet Train” sputters significantly is its attempt at non-linear storytelling. It tries to do what Tarantino has mastered–flashbacks, flash-forwards, and loads of monologues explaining the plot. The plot unfolds in reverse at times, where we’re not sure who the characters are, their motivations, or how they’re all connected. A title card will state, “26 hours ago this happened”, and here’s why you should care. I found myself not caring. Once the characters and storyline are established, the film does find its footing.

I felt the tone couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a dark, hard R-rated action film or a fun action-comedy. I have a sneaky suspicion that the direction changed several times during development. I find it boring when a film is covered in loads of CGI; it gives it that early 2000s vibe. The plot also sneaks in a “Snakes on a Plane” riff; you can call it “Snakes on a Train.”  

“Bullet Train” throws in some interesting jokes about Thomas the Train and provides compelling characters, but I was massively underwhelmed, considering the cast and director. “Bullet Train” might be the most derivative film of the year, and it dragged on about 45 minutes too long. The overstuffed story jumps back and forth, making it hard to follow. There’s plenty to like, but in the end, “Bullet Train” had so much potential. 

2.5/5

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