‘Bullet Train’ Review: Pitt leads gleefully overloaded battle royale

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LOS ANGELES — The bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto takes about two hours and 15 minutes — just enough time to make an over-the-top cartoonish action movie, in which half a dozen assassins each shoot, stab and puncture the pretty little faces of others chasing a briefcase full of cash. It’s a high-stakes hot potato game, choreographed and executed by “Atomic Blonde” director David Leitch, in which a self-deprecating Brat Pitt wears a bucket hat and oversized specs Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor -Johnson play “twin”. Hitmen Lemon and Tangerine, and marriage wrecker “The Princess” Joey King (known here as “the Prince”) is a cunning killer who can pretend to cry on command.

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These eccentric characters – and half a dozen other mortals, with names like “The Hornet” (Zazie Beetz) and “The Wolf” (Benito A Mart?nez Ocasio, aka “Bad Bunny”) – are identified by giant on-screen labels overlap their iced mugs, the way Martin Scorsese or Guy Ritchie like to showcase their sets. “Bullet Train” seems to come from the same brain as “Snatch”, wearing its pop style on its sleeve – a “Kill Bill” mix of martial arts, manga and gabby hitman film influences, minus the vision or the spirit that involves.

Adapting Kotaro Isaka’s pulp novel “MariaBeetle” for a mostly Western cast, Leitch and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz make each of these characters twice as quirky as necessary, lest audience attention falter for a moment. Maria (voiced by Sandra Bullock) is the bug in Pitt’s ear, guiding the new, non-violent badass (a detail recently seen in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” films) through what is supposed to be the toughest job. trickiest of his career: board the bullet train in Tokyo, take the MacGuffin and get off at the next stop. Cha-ching goes the choo-choo. Except Ladybug (as Pitt’s character is nicknamed) is out of luck, and there seem to be more murderers crammed here than Agatha Christie could hold on the Orient Express.

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Meanwhile, innocent bystanders are at a minimum. There’s a busy lady who keeps silencing Ladybug and Lemon when their fist fight gets too disruptive, but after a few stops, pretty much the only passengers left on board are the ones who would literally kill for that briefcase. There’s also an incredibly venomous Boomslang snake, whose venom takes effect within 30 seconds, causing victims to bleed from the eyes, such as poor Logan Lerman (the first character to bite it, serving the rest of the film in “Weekend at Bernie’s mode”). “).

The film’s strategy is to keep throwing deadly obstacles at Pitt’s character, who quite easily gets his hands on the bulletproof Tumi soon enough. Ladybug is remarkably good at improvising to get out of trouble – even when the film literally goes off the rails at the end. Putting all this mayhem on a train wasn’t Leitch’s idea, though the stuntman-turned-director makes the most of that limitation, setting up visually interesting sets in different cars. Ladybug and the wolf have a knife fight in the bar. Later, he and Tangerine destroy the kitchen. Funny things happen in a segment of the neon-lit train involving the mascot of a local children’s show, who keeps getting punched in the face. Even the toilets are fair game.

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The fight scenes look relatively original, which is impressive in itself, considering how many other creative filmmakers are trying to make their mark in the genre. Leitch tends to approach these clashes the same way Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire once did their dance numbers: the violence doesn’t need to be taken at face value (which is sometimes difficult, given the brutality of bloodshed), but rather appreciated primarily for their choreography. and its ability to surprise.

Yet there is something insane about the casualness with which Leitch takes human life. “Bullet Train” represents one of the first and most ambitious pandemic blockbusters to be released, demonstrating that Leitch and company felt confident enough that the world would return to normal that they could make the prince pushes a six-year-old off a roof just to lure the child’s father (Andrew Koji, by far the film’s weakest link) onto the train. King’s character is a real piece of work, dressed in a black bob and pink schoolgirl style outfit. She is a heartless manipulator, often posing as an innocent victim to ensnare her prey.

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Ultimately, “Bullet Train” reveals that behind this uncoincidental roundup of assassins was a plan hatched by fearsome mob boss White Death (Michael Shannon) to avenge the death of his wife. But he’s not the only one to have lost a loved one, as Hiroyuki Sanada’s samurai-like “Elder” shows when he embarks a stage or two before Kyoto.

The geographical logic of “Bullet Train” doesn’t make much sense, but then the film looks like it was produced without the principals setting foot in Japan. And why not? It’s basically a live-action cartoon, with high-profile cameos sprinkled in with extra laughs. Stylistically, Leitch does his best to channel the likes of Tarantino and Ritchie, even if the dialogue and fake British accents aren’t strong enough to merit such comparisons.

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Tangerine and Lemon are likable characters, though the latter constantly recounts that everything he learned about people came from “Thomas the Tank Engine” (which goes a long way towards explaining how much of the film’s understanding of nature human is reductive). Similarly, Ladybug constantly quotes banal self-help aphorisms, which invariably bring laughs. It can be quite a fun ride, but such punchlines bring home neither the characters nor the movie they inhabit are particularly deep. Quite the opposite, in fact. As Calvin and Hobbes so aptly put it, their train of thought always embarks at the station.

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