With Brad Pitt, Joey King, Brian Tyree Henry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Sandra Bullock, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Bad Bunny and Zazie Beetz. Directed by David Leitch. 126 minutes. Opens Friday in cinemas worldwide, with previews Thursday. 14A
The first rule of “Bullet Train” is that we are not talking about the plot of “Bullet Train”.
If you insist, dear readers, I suppose we could play with the code of silence of “Fight Club”, which also starred Brad Pitt. But that wouldn’t do any of us any good.
“Bullet Train” is a summer action vehicle where the accelerator pedal is fully depressed but the brain is at a standstill. Pitt plays a problem-prone character who looks like Bugs Bunny let loose on a bullet train full of murderous Elmer Fudds.
It’s more cartoon than movie, directed by David Leitch, who specializes in style-over-substance confections like “Atomic Blonde”, the first “John Wick” and the second “Deadpool”. . The screenplay by Zak Olkewicz is based on the Japanese novel “Maria Beetle” by Kōtarō Isaka.
What happens in “Bullet Train” means nothing. Whoever this happens means a lot to enjoy this brilliantly acted film, at least until the story overstays its welcome.
The inimitable Mr. Pitt, who doesn’t get enough credit for his comedic timing and physical humor, hasn’t had so much fun since playing the mumbling thug in Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch,” one of the many blood-and-joke movies that “Bullet Train” resembles.
Here, Pitt sends his superstar status by playing Ladybug, a fluffy international spy and assassin in a bucket hat and black-rimmed glasses who is re-evaluating his life.
Maybe, he reasons, there’s more to existence than doing “pick-pick jobs” that invariably result in carnage resembling the Grand Guignol theatre. Ladybug now wants to make the world a better place, refusing to even carry her trusty gun.
“You bring peace to the world, you get peace back,” he tells his cynical handler, Maria, played by a delightfully deadpan Sandra Bullock.
Can you tell he does meditation and reads self help books?
Maria laughs. She gave him the new codename “Ladybug”, a joke about his habit of being in the wrong place at the right time and leaving a scarlet puddle in his wake.
Hoping to get him back in the spy game, Maria gives Ladybug what seems like an obvious task: retrieve a silver briefcase from aboard the world’s fastest train, zipping between Tokyo and Kyoto. . (The briefcase is this movie’s MacGuffin, a Hitchcockian device to incite action, much like a deadly snake that just happens to have been let loose on the train for extra laughs.)
Neither Maria nor Ladybug are counting on him to meet the assortment of Looney Tunes troublemakers who are also on the train, literally for the ride in an effort to maximize the mayhem.
First and foremost are two engaging morons played by Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who go by the names Lemon and Tangerine for the purpose of a running gag. They’re also known as “the twins,” for an eye-rolling sight gag. (Leitch loves this kind of insanity in jokes: a stealthy character reads the classic spy novel “Shibumi,” which was also spotted in “John Wick.”)
Lemon and Tangerine have their own designs on this silver briefcase, which they carry to a very evil criminal ringleader known as White Death. Other murderous characters aboard the train – played by Joey King (“The Princess”), Zazie Beetz (“Deadpool 2,” TV’s “Atlanta”) and rapper Bad Bunny – have their own reasons for shooting a gun. gun, sticking a needle or waving a knife around.
We learn that the high-speed train everyone is on has 16 cars. Sometimes it seems like there are 16 different scenarios, including an outrageous continuous product cap for Fuji bottled water.
The movie often loses momentum, a strange thing happens in a propulsion-themed tale. And for all the slapstick bluster going on, the abundant murder isn’t hilarious and often well overdone. When Lemon and Tangerine argue over whether Lemon killed 16 or 17 people, Leitch feels compelled to show us all of the hits, in one of the film’s many quick edits.
The good news is that Pitt is in most stories and he clearly enjoys working under the watch of Leitch, a former stuntman who doubled for Pitt in movies like “Fight Club” and “Ocean’s Eleven.”
Leitch can apparently persuade Pitt to do anything, including emulating John Travolta’s cocky gait in “Saturday Night Fever,” on “Stayin’ Alive,” of course.
I wanted to like “Bullet Train” more than I did, but I liked it enough as a summertime distraction and Brad Pitt attraction to give it a pass. Calm down, as Ladybug would say.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION