Aan ostensible action movie so light on well-crafted fights we even hesitate to classify it as such, High-speed train can best be described as a low-rent Quentin Tarantino knockoff, but with nothing of its own. The movie is weirdly gritty and increasingly one-note to the point of being obnoxious. Most glaringly, it’s just not that much fun. What little joy there is to be had with some of the cast cast quickly fades into the background when they’re buried under a mountain of superficial schtick. It only manages to be the biggest missed opportunity of the summer.
Based on the 2010 novel Maria Beetle by mystery writer Ktar Isaka with a screenplay by Fear Street 1978 co-writer Zak Olkewicz, the story centers on a former assassin named Ladybug who tries to reform herself. He’s a buffoonish man with a bucket hat beckoned by good or bad luck, depending on how you look at him. Played by Brad Pitt in rare, but not necessarily good, form as he sets out to do the same version of a self-help joke until he’s nauseous. When Ladybug is trained for what could be one last job that requires him to steal a briefcase from a high-speed train, he soon discovers that he is essentially trapped in the confines of cars with a group of eccentric killers.
There’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s duo Tangerine and Brian Tyree Henry’s Lemon who spend most of their time bickering over how to handle their own mission. Then there’s Joey King as Prince, a manipulative young girl with her own mysterious agenda, and Bad Bunny as Wolf, a heartbroken hitman out for revenge. They’re not the only ones as there are plenty of unexpected appearances of familiar faces jumping into the fray. Some are mere cameos, inserted for dull disposable jokes, while others become more central to the experience.
Directed by veteran stunt coordinator David Leitch whose work on the original John Wick and 2017 Atomic Blonde would suggest that this new movie might contain similar kinetic action. Not only does it fall short of that level, but it seems to actively undermine and even downplay the action elements. Every time a fight sequence starts, the movie will water it down with another mean joke or sometimes cut it out altogether. Each battle becomes more hollow slapstick than well-crafted stunts, creating no memorable moments. If you were looking for the ballet of the brutality of John Wick or something resembling the amazing stair fight to a hold of Atomic Blonde, you better look elsewhere.
The actors are the only saving graces, some of whom manage to get things done despite the shoddy story they’ve been struggling with. Henry, in particular, could read a phone book and still be present on a magnetic screen. Best known for his role in the hit series Atlanta, it is both comedic and heartfelt even when the rest of the film is not. Unfortunately, the talents of actors are often underutilized. Most disconcerting is the dazzling presence of Karen Fukuhara (The boys), who never has anything to do despite his dynamic screen presence in past projects.
By the time the story coalesces and we learn that this set of characters have more in common than they realize, the reveal lands with a thump. Even with a few flashes of flair, the High-speed train the experience is surprisingly tame, never embracing the possibility of its premise or setting. There are good movies that show how to take advantage of the confined space of a train to their advantage like Train to Busan Where snowdrops. These movies felt daring as it only went along with the motions of his laborious and far too long journey to nowhere. Even with all the potential to really go wild, High-speed train ends up being a hodgepodge of premium movies that never offers anything remotely exciting. ♦
Directed by David Leitch
With Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Joey King