AP

Review: ‘Bullet Train’ goes off the rails, but Pitt doesn’t

Aug 2, 2022, 2:12 PM | Updated: 3:01 pm

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Bryan Tyree Henry, left, and Brad Pitt in a scene from "...

This image released by Sony Pictures shows Bryan Tyree Henry, left, and Brad Pitt in a scene from "Bullet Train." (Scott Garfield/Sony Pictures via AP)

(Scott Garfield/Sony Pictures via AP)

Aboard the speeding locomotive of “Bullet Train” ride at least five assassins, one venomous reptile (a snake on the train), countless glib Guy Ritchie-esque slo-mo action sequences, and one bucket-hat wearing Brad Pitt.

It’s a lot of ingredients that go into this candy-colored, battle royale of a movie. But the only one that really matters is that last one. At 58, Pitt’s star power has never seemed so easy and so natural. Radiant in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” delicious in “The Lost City,” Pitt glides into “Bullet Train” in an rarified state of cruise control. Seldom has a movie star seemed to be having so much fun.

In “Bullet Train,” which opens in theaters Friday, Pitt plays a hired gun by profession but little else. His code name is Ladybug. He doesn’t like guns. And in his first job back after a hiatus of self-reflection and therapy, he goes into lethal fights with great reluctance, spouting self-help slogans like “Hurt people hurt people” in the midst of hand-to-hand combat. Pitt, a maximum movie star with a minimalist bent, is a hitman with no taste for hitting.

Ladybug, tasked to grab a very particular briefcase off a train headed from Tokyo to Kyoto, might not be up for the job, but the bigger question is whether “Bullet Train” is a good enough vehicle for its biggest star. Director David Leitch, the stuntman-turned-director of “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2,” has brought the style and energy of a “John Wick” film (he co-directed the first) to a setting that has traditionally been associated with more subtle methods of killing.

But with films like Bong Joon Ho’s “Snowpiercer” and the Liam Neeson-led “The Commuter” greasing the wheels, train movies have chugged along since the original “Murder on the Orient Express.” Adapted from Kotaro Isaka’s pulpy novel, “MariaBeetle,” “Bullet Train” amps the carnage further and shifts the action to Japan.

But the location here is mostly just a neon-lit stage for a high-speed melee with an international ensemble, including Brian Tyree Henry (best of the bunch) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as bickering British “twins”; Andrew Koji as a Japanese assassin; a Mexican cartel veteran named the Wolf (Benito A. Martinez Ocasio, a.k.a. Bad Bunny); a dangerous young woman called Prince who fake cries her way out of nearly everything (Joey King); and Zazie Beetz’s killer known as the Hornet.

All are on the train for various criminal reasons ultimately connected to a Russian kingpin named the White Death. The actor playing this most fearsome character is best left to the third-act reveal, but that’s just one way “Bullet Train” plays around with star persona. There’s a cameo that answers Pitt’s in “The Lost City.” Another “Lost City” star, Sandra Bullock, is mostly only heard on the other end of a phone line, as Ladybug’s handler.

The copious flashbacks and quirky banter (Henry’s character has an outlook based around Thomas the Tank Engine) that accompany the juggling of all these characters in between bloody encounters is a familiar kind of framework recalling a long line of Quentin Tarantino knockoffs. In “Bullet Train,” a movie that proudly opts for style over substance, characters are introduced like videogame fighters, running gags get run into the ground and a winking irreverence lands somewhere in between playful and exhausting.

It’s no train wreck. Leitch’s film is colorful, cartoonish and well-choreographed. But the more-is-more manic energy of “Bullet Train” eventually peters out, since that’s all the movie was ever running on. Well, that and Pitt. His charm alone does wonders for the movie, raising it at least to the level of watchable. When, in the finale, Ladybug sails comically unharmed through the wreckage, it captures the situation exactly. “Bullet Train” might go off the rails but Pitt remains bulletproof.

“Bullet Train,” a Columbia Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for strong and bloody violence, pervasive language, and brief sexuality. Running time: 126 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

___

Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally Saturday, March 9, 2024, at Pullman Yards in Atlanta...

Associated Press

Biden meeting with his national security team as US pledges ‘support’ for Israel against Iran

Joe Biden cut short a weekend stay at his beach house to meet with his national security team as Iran launched an attack against Israel.

8 hours ago

Protesters in Phoenix shout as they join thousands marching around the Arizona state Capitol after ...

Associated Press

Abortion ruling supercharges Arizona to be an especially important swing state

A ruling this week instituting a near-total abortion ban supercharged Arizona's role, turning it into the most critical battleground.

24 hours ago

Former President Donald Trump, center, appears in court for his arraignment, Tuesday, April 4, 2023...

Associated Press

Manhattan court searching for jurors to hear first-ever criminal case against a former president

Jury selection is set to start Monday in former President Donald Trump's hush money case — the first trial of the presumptive nominee.

1 day ago

Emergency personnel arrive on the scene after a  an 18-wheeler crashed into the Texas Department of...

Associated Press

1 dead and 13 injured in semitrailer crash at a Texas public safety office, with the driver jailed

A driver rammed an 18-wheeler though the front of a building where his renewal for a commercial driver’s license had been rejected.

1 day ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a Get Out The Vote rally ...

Associated Press

Trump pushes Arizona lawmakers to ‘remedy’ state abortion ruling that he says ‘went too far’

Donald Trump urged Arizona lawmakers on Friday to swiftly “remedy” the state court ruling allowing prosecutors to enforce an abortion ban.

1 day ago

Biden to require more gun dealers to run background checks....

Associated Press

Biden administration will require thousands more gun dealers to run background checks on buyers

New Biden rule to require thousands more firearms dealers across the United States will have to run background checks on buyers.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.

Review: ‘Bullet Train’ goes off the rails, but Pitt doesn’t