When asked why he chose to wear a skirt at the Los Angeles premiere of his latest film, ‘Bullet Train,’ Brad Pitt replied, “We’re all gonna die, so let’s ruin it.” A great point. With the geopolitical and ecological crises set to deepen, I’m already looking forward to the Chanel creation that Pitt will sport at the 2023 Oscars. another new release, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” – suggests a thoughtful tactic on the part of the film industry. As the pandemic ebbs very gradually and the next disaster lines up, we are not only treated to multiple spasms of extreme violence, but invited to laugh along with them. Talk messed up.
Pitt’s role in “Bullet Train” is that of Ladybug, who is an assassin by trade – an honorable calling, which happens to be shared by most of the other characters. We have Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), commonly referred to as the twins. We have a couple of killers, the Hornet (Zazie Beetz) and the Prince (Joey King), a vision of youthful innocence in pink, who cannot be trusted for a moment. We have a snake (a real snake, not an insidious human), with a bite that makes your eyes bleed. In the final act, we have the White Death (Michael Shannon), whom Ladybug addresses as Mr. Death. And we have the wolf, played by Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, known to rap fans as Bad Bunny. It looks like Mr. Bunny is using “Bullet Train” to get into acting. He may want to reconnect.
The film is directed by David Leitch, and it comes with a central kick: all the homicide specialists are on a train, going from Tokyo to Kyoto. While super fast, as befits the slam-bang plot, the train is also illogically slow, stretching a two- or three-hour route into an overnight ride. (To be fair, a regular tension arises at the station stops, when the doors open for exactly one minute.) Isn’t there something old-school about this laborious gathering of Malefics? For all the fountains of gore, aren’t we basically looking at a juice version of “Murder on the Orient Express”? At least Agatha Christie gave us a narrative nut to crack; here, bamboo is rare. The story revolves around a briefcase full of ransom money, which Ladybug is asked to retrieve, and for which her fellow professionals will fight him to the death. The fights are fierce and, in the hands of the resourceful Ladybug, the briefcase itself becomes both weapon and shield.
Anyone who has seen, presumably under duress, the complete works of Guy Ritchie, or the films “Kick-Ass” (2010) and “Kingsman” by Matthew Vaughn, will recognize the unsightly race to which “Bullet Train” belongs. Arrogant, conceited, and apostolically eager to touch Tarantino’s hem, these movies delight in hitting our senses while luring us in with a knowing wink. Take Tangerine and Lemon, which much of Leitch’s film is devoted to. Because they can’t agree on whether it’s sixteen or seventeen victims they killed during a previous job, a flashback shows them in the middle of the massacre, accompanied by Engelbert Humperdinck on the soundtrack singing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”. (An ominous title even appears, confirming that it is indeed Humperdinck. Thanks for that.) Likewise, Lemon is obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine, carrying around a page of children’s stickers; the tonal shift, amusing the first ten seconds, then repeats itself ad infinitum.
Compare, if you can bear, another couple: Charters and Caldicott, the English buddies inserted by Hitchcock in the train joke of “The Lady Vanishes”, in 1938. (Two years later, they were recalled, at the request general, for Carol Reed’s “Night Train to Munich”.) A chorus of two fools, like Tangerine and Lemon, they were as crazy about cricket as Lemon is about Thomas the Tank Engine. Yet how lightly that folly was worn, and how swiftly grace they saw the moral error of their ways; remember the superb scene where the peace-loving Charters, shot down with a bullet in the hand, hardly flinched, and immediately grasped who the real enemy was and why he had to fight. Dramatically, Hitch has achieved more, with this one small spill of blood, than Leitch can deliver in two hours of carnage. In truth, the only soul to emerge with any “Bullet Train” credit is Brad Pitt, who drifts through the tumult in a haze of reckless charm. To say that it all ends in a total train wreck is both accurate and misleading. The wreckage was there from the start.
If your thirst for chaos has not been quenched by “Bullet Train”, more is available in “Bodies Bodies Bodies”. The film is written by Sarah DeLappe, from a story by Kristen Roupenian, and directed by Halina Reijn. The first sounds we hear are birdsong, a breeze and soft kisses, followed by a declaration of love, but these are diversionary jokes. The film is a bestial thing, and proud of it – a cheerfully sadistic kerfuffle, from which every trace of tenderness has been erased. At best, the characters are turned on by self-adulation. As one of them said: “I look like I’m fucking. And that’s the atmosphere I like to put there.
The early smoochers are Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and her girlfriend, Bee (Maria Bakalova). They’ve been together for ages—like, I don’t know, weeks. Waste no effort trying to figure out who is, or was, seeing who; just accept that relationships, in the world of this movie, last about as long as an open milk carton. Acidification begins immediately. Also, being in a relationship does not mean that you are well informed about your other half. Sophie, for example, thinks Bee went to Utah State University, and she’s referred to as being Russian, but that’s it. Either way, they’re on their way to a luxury country house, where Bee will be introduced to a gang of Sophie’s friends. Lucky Bee.
The house party includes Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), Alice (Rachel Sennott), Greg (Lee Pace), and David (Pete Davidson). We soon realize that the place belongs to David’s parents, who are away. In what grave lack of sanity, do you want to ask, did they leave him in his care? Apart from Jordan, the daughter of simple college professors, everyone here is surrounded by privilege and wealth. And, aside from Greg, who is older and semi-detached, everyone is from a Gen Z background and has the tics — linguistic, emotional, and technological — to prove it. The dialogue, artfully stacked by Roupenian and DeLappe, is a bonfire of inanities and conceits, glowing with blame and sudden spite: “Don’t call her a psychopath.” It’s so capable. “You are so toxic.” “Feelings are facts.” “I have body dysmorphia!” “You hate listening to his podcast.” (That was new to me. I should spend less time enjoying reading Jane Austen.) We’re All Coke’, which is a direct descendant of James Thurber’s cartoon legend, first printed in these pages. in 1935, “Well, I’m disenchanted too. Were everything disillusioned.” Each era is proud of its pain.
Sociologically, in other words, the film has quite the chutzpah, seeking to both woo and aggravate the very demographics it represents on screen. He wants to have his cake, slice it, blitz it, roll it into little lines, and snort it. The irony is that such a blatant desire to catch the moment can’t help but remind you of times past. When Reijn layers a forest landscape with music of brutal aggression, she pinches a trick Michael Haneke pulled in the opener to “Funny Games” (1997) and again in the 2007 remake. And the plot of the new film? Prepare for a ridiculous hurricane, blowing after Sophie and Bee arrive, dampening dramatis personae for the next hour or so, and keeping them a) wet, b) unable to call for help, and c ) in danger. All of the above would have brought a slow smile to the long face of Boris Karloff, star of “The Old Dark House” (1932), which came with a practical storm of its own.
As for the title, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is the name of a game, played by David and his guests as the storm erupts. After the draw, one person becomes the assassin, pretending to “kill” another player. with a pat on the back. The others then gather to solve the crime. Except in this case, you’ll never guess what: someone actually dies. Then someone else. Etc. The suspense, to be honest, is pretty mixed and made more intense than it is by weakly choreographed outbursts of panic, but there’s a real twist: in traditional murder mysteries, it doesn’t matter who’s croaking, but it was the first time that I found myself actively wanting the extinction of each character, if possible in ostensible agony. None deserve to survive. I briefly wondered: if Bee is indeed Russian, could she be part of a secret plan by Putin, sent to destroy this hotbed of wealthy Western decadents from within? No. They can do everything by themselves. ♦