WHERE TO WATCH:
Now showing in cinema
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
'Ladybug' (Brad Pitt) is a veteran assassin-turned-thief whose latest assignment seems simple enough: board the Bullet Train in Japan, steal a briefcase from the hold and get off at the next stop. Unfortunately, the train proves to be full of assassins, and that briefcase happens to belong to the notorious head of the Yakuza. And what should have been a quick job with a big payout proves to be a lot more trouble than it's worth.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Based on the Japanese-language novel of the same name by Kotaro Isaka, adapted by Zak Olkewicz (Fear Street: Part 2 – 1978) and directed by David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, Hobbs and Shaw), Bullet Train is the sort of high-octane, flashy action-comedy flick that begs to be seen on the big screen... and actually can be! In these strange times when most films go straight to streaming or, just as often, fail to escape the festival circuit, a cinematic release for even big-budget, big-name films can hardly be taken for granted. Especially when they're not based on a popular IP – so it's pleasantly surprising to see something like this enjoying exactly the kind of release it deserves.
Not because it's some sort of cinematic masterpiece or anything – the middling 49% Metacritic rating was all but inevitable – but because it's exactly the sort of movie that is best enjoyed with an audience in a darkened room, engulfed by big visuals and bigger sound, while munching on some hilariously over-priced snacks.
Bullet Train is, as its title suggests, a total blast that barely lets up for a second. It's sleek, stylish and (as presented in the film at least) fairly empty. It's almost entirely unoriginal, borrowing as it does from frenetic anime, Guy Richie gangster films, Tarantino, and Leitch's own work in Deadpool 2, and at over two hours in length, is so relentless and so hyperactive that it rather overstays its welcome. But it's also so full-on that you'll never get a chance to be bored either. It's exactly the sort of thing that snottier critics are bound to hate and audiences are bound to love.
Me, I liked it quite a bit. It may be fatuous, self-indulgent and silly, and it might be full of dodgy accents and just a few too many one-liners that don't land, but it's also really a whole lot of fun. I rather enjoyed its cartoony excesses, random cameos and assortment of quirky thieves and murderers – at least up to a point – but the real draw here is Brad Pitt. He clearly relished the chance to play such a fun, funny character.
His "Ladybug" – a codename given to him by his handler (a literally phoned-in performance by Sandra Bullock, fresh off co-starring with Pitt in The Lost City) – is the sort of charming, chilled, surfer-dude type character that he can play in his sleep. But whether he's (accidentally) dispatching baddies, becoming increasingly exasperated by his inability to get off the damn train, or muddling through a wide assortment of pop-psychology clichés in his quest for enlightenment, Pitt is such a likeable, frequently hilarious screen presence that it's really very hard to care.
Not that the rest of the cast is anything to sneeze at either. Admittedly, most of the Western actors in the film are saddled with often ridiculous accents – Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry as "twins", "Tangerine" and "Lemon", respectively, are especially over-the-top with their 'ard geezer accents'. But they all throw themselves into the mayhem almost as much relish as Pitt does. Joey King as a deadly Lolita-type being a particular stand out.
Rounding out the cast are a couple of Japanese actors, Andrew Koji and the great Hiroyuki Sanada, who play it rather more straightforward. In the latter's case, especially, adds much-needed gravitas to the proceedings. Unsurprisingly, though, the film has come under fire for being a movie set in Japan, based on a Japanese book centred overwhelmingly on mostly white actors (Brian Tyree Henry being the obvious exception) and fair enough. Except that the whole film is so inconsequential that you mostly just come across like an overly serious spoil-sport if you bring up such weighty issues.
Even with its actually quite solidly handling of the theme of fate that runs throughout, this is paper-thin, fairly forgettable stuff. That is what it is, though it's a really good time at the pictures. And these days, that's certainly not nothing.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
Bullet Train is now showing in cinemas