So you’ve decided to watch a film called Bullet Train. You know Brad Pitt is in it. You know David Leitch directed it – he co-directed John Wick and was Pitt’s stunt double in Fight Club. You have certain expectations. In fact you almost know exactly what you’re going to get – something that’s expensive and glossy, well made, with driving action and perhaps a squeeze of humour. The names Sandra Bullock and Brian Tyree Henry back up the suggestion there’ll be comedy. And there’s Michael Shannon in the credits, so maybe a bit of badassery? Want to bet there’ll also be a runaway train factored into the plot somehow?
Enter Brad Pitt, feet first, walking along to the sound of the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive and the first of those boxes is ticked. The second as he boards Japan’s bullet train, having informed us and his handler via earpiece link that he’s an unusual kind of hitman, one who’s seen the light and now likes to couch his hits in therapy-speak – karma, growth, the journey. The goofy hitman – tick. And on board the train, wouldn’t you know it, are a whole array of other hitpeople, all deadpanning and wisecracking away as they compete to either save or kill the ransomed son (Logan Lerman) of a badass known only as White Death, and possibly lift the ransom money while they’re at it.
Among them Aaron Taylor-Johnson, in an “oh god no he’s doing Cockney” role as one half of hitman Laurel-and-Hardy duo Tangerine and Lemon. The other half is Brian Tyree Henry. In another carriage a lone assassin called the Wolf (Benito Martínez Ocasio aka Bad Bunny). In another Joey King as a hitwoman called Prince. Later, Zazie Beetz will turn up as yet another killer called Hornet. Among them wanders, in a seemingly unconnected plot, a father (Andrew Koji) trying to find the person responsible for throwing his son off a roof.
It is all very, and knowingly, Seven Psychopaths meets Quentin Tarantino, and apart from the wisecracks and people with colours for names, there’s an insistence on elaborate backstory and timeline disruption that’s tremendously familiar.
So, no points for originality. Not one? Not even a little one? Thinks… hmmm. Hang on, there is at one point a poisonous snake on the loose. No, that makes it Snakes on a Train. Hmm… goes back to thinking. How about the flashback to a wedding where everyone dies by vomiting their own blood? Maybe?
It’s a Saturday night movie of the make-no-bones-about-it variety, the sort that Pitt would once have co-opted Clooney and Cheadle and Damon and co into but is doing pretty well with the co-stars he has gathered around him. Taylor-Johnson is all McConaughey swagger as Tangerine, and the accent does yield some of the film’s best laughs. Brian Tyree Henry is also great fun as Lemon, the Thomas the Tank Engine nut with several emotional screws loose. Between them the pair eventually, by sheer likeability and effort, might make you forget John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction. The rest of them fight for space, with Joey King getting most of it as the killer with a butter-wouldn’t-melt demeanour. She also, like AT-J, has Cockneyed up for the role. Is Guy Ritchie on a backhander?
When it’s not running the world, the Amazon “if you like that, you’ll like this” algorithm might have written it, and there are obligatory slo-mo slaughter sequences and near-obligatory starry cameos by the sort of people only Pitt can pull in. If you can be bothered plotting out how all the various characters dovetail together, it does all make a certain sort of logical sense.
Entirely unnecessary and a lot of fun. As for that runaway train…
Bullet Train – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2022