Brad Pitt’s thrill ride just barely stays on track

Brad Pitt stars in Bullet Train.

Here’s a prototypical scene in the new action-comedy “Bullet Train”: two eccentric, eccentrically dressed strangers pass each other, exchange a banter, then engage in a brutal fight over an incongruous, upbeat pop song. Their gory R-rated violence is balanced by funny and creative prop work. One of the fighters dies unexpectedly, while the other shakes off and undermines the previous savagery with a tongue-in-cheek remark: “Well, that was weird” or “Who has been this guy?” or maybe “Damn, I have blood on my suit.”

It’s the kind of cinematic sequence that feels fun and quirky the first time you see it and a bit exhausting by the seventh or eighth. And boy, oh boy, is it everywhere these days – from Netflix projects like “The Umbrella Academy” and “Gunpowder Milkshake” to blockbusters like the “Kingsman” franchise and, to some extent, even the inventive of this year’s “Everything Everywhere All At Once”. .”

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The formula is basically part Quentin Tarantino, part Guy Ritchie and part Edgar Wright, with a pinch of irreverence from Shane Black and a pinch of absurdism from Bong Joon-Ho. . And if that particular cocktail appeals to you, you’ll probably have the ride of your life with “Bullet Train,” which pushes the “comedy” half of the action-comedy formula to its limit – a great swing adaptation choice from Kōtarō Isaka hardest novel 2010.

But the problem with these bloody and irreverent projects is that they often present a certain smugness; like they’re getting away with something subversive instead of just leaning into an increasingly popular formula. And if this particular feeling of jubilant self-satisfaction is annoying, then it is better to avoid the “Bullet Train” like the metro during rush hour.

About “Bullet Train”: A Crazy Ride

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brad Pitt star in Bullet Train.

Directed by “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2” director David Leitch, “Bullet Train” features an international cast led by Brad Pitt as the deadly yet laid-back underworld agent “Ladybug.” Ladybug’s latest mission is simple: board a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto and grab a briefcase. But when it turns out the train is full of his former adversaries – not to mention a host of other people who want the briefcase for their own ends – his simple mission suddenly starts to feel a whole lot more impossible.

Pitt deftly harnesses his movie-star charisma into a disheveled existential hitman who spends his time between fights (and sometimes during them) quoting his therapist and worrying about his bad luck. Placing such a zen character in such a high-stakes situation is a fun idea, and Ladybug’s aversion to guns allows Leitch to lean into set pieces that do more than just recreate the gunplay. of the “John Wick” franchise he helped create with Chad Stahelski. . (Expect knives, swords, luggage, water bottles, and smart toilets instead.)

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Still, it’s hard not to feel like Ladybug’s windy shtick might have worked better in a supporting role, especially when the film has two even more compelling characters on the sidelines: the British hitmen and the “twins.” “Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who feel like they’ve come straight out of a particularly insane Ritchie movie. The two actors thoroughly enjoy themselves with their East End accents and charming, sadistic mannerisms. And Taylor-Johnson, in particular, is better utilized here than he’s been in 90% of his Hollywood career thus far.

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Bryan Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson star in Bullet Train.

The fact that Lemon and Tangerine actually care about each other helps give this cynical little film at least some sort of emotional core. And for a while, at least, the mix of style, action, and crazy comedy is enough to keep “Bullet Train” going as a fun game.

WATCH FOR FREE ON TUBI: Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays John Lennon in “Nowhere Boy”get the app

The problem comes in the third act as the action heats up, but the intelligence slows, leaving more room for viewers to contemplate how strangely this film treats its female characters (Joey King’s psychopathic schoolgirl is the only lead actress) and how few Japanese characters appear in a film set entirely in Japan. (The great Hiroyuki Sanada is criminally underutilized.)

It doesn’t help that the quirkiness of the small quarters action set pieces eventually gives way to an overdone CG-filled climax that feels underwhelmingly generic by comparison. Although the film is only a little over two hours long, a seemingly endless parade of twists, reveals, and cameos makes it feel much, much longer than that.

Aiming to create a sense of non-stop comedic mayhem, “Bullet Train” ends up feeling a bit too calculated for its own good. He arrives at the station, but the ride is bumpy.

Category B-

Rated R. 126 minutes. Real: David Leitch. With: brad pitt, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Joey KingAndrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael ShannonBenito A Martinez Ocasio, Sandra Bullock, Zazie Beetz, Logan Lerman.

Make it double duty with “Snowdrop”, free streaming on Tubi

snowdrops (2014): Before director Bong Joon-ho stormed the Oscars with “Parasite” in 2019, he delivered this superb English-language sci-fi thriller about class, climate change and revolution. Set aboard a giant circumnavigation train that is home to the last human survivors of a massive ice age, “Snowpiercer” stars Chris Evans as an underclass tail passenger seeking to overthrow the train’s elite and establish more equality. But don’t just expect a standard hero’s journey. As anyone familiar with Bong’s work would expect, “Snowpiercer” is a wild and eerie ride with dark surprises in every wagon. Rated R. 126 minutes. Real: Bong Joon Ho. With: Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Jaime Bell.

“Snowpiercer” is streaming for free on Tubiget the app

How to watch “Bullet Train”

“Bullet Train” hits theaters nationwide on August 5. It is currently not available for streaming.

About the writer: Caroline Siede is a film and television critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she spent four years lovingly analyzing the romantic comedy genre, one film at a time, in her When Romance Met Comedy column for The AV Club. She also co-hosts the film’s podcast, role calland shares his views on pop culture on Twitter (@carolinesiede).

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