Action Bullet Train

Review: ‘Bullet Train’ is a Slick and Stylish Thrill Ride on the Fast Track to Nowhere

August 5, 2022Ben MK

Action movies and adrenaline-fueled spectacle have always gone hand in hand. But when it comes to keeping audiences invested and on the edge of their seats, there's something about high-speed modes of transportation that really gets the blood pumping. Whether it's a city transit bus that will explode if it drops below 50 miles per hour or vintage muscle cars tricked out to perform impossible acts of gravity-defying acrobatics, the element of speed usually seems to make the genre better. And in Bullet Train, that's exactly what director David Leitch is counting on, as he assembles an ensemble cast to tell a tale of revenge, betrayal and greed — all set aboard the world's fastest locomotive.

The story begins with a thief-for-hire codenamed Ladybug (Brad Pitt), a magnet for bad luck who's taken a break from his new age therapy sessions in order to take on a last-minute snatch-and-grab job involving a briefcase full of money belonging to a mysterious and dreaded gangster known as the White Death (Michael Shannon). What Ladybug doesn't realize, though, is that the White Death has also hired several other individuals with questionable moral values to steal the briefcase, which happens to be stashed somewhere on the 16-car Shinkansen headed from Tokyo to Kyoto. From a pair of bickering contract killers calling themselves Lemon and Tangerine (Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to a deadly assassin nicknamed the Hornet (Zazie Beetz), who has a penchant for using snake venom to dispatch her victims, Ladybug will have his work cut out from him if he wants to outsmart the competition and come out the other side alive. But just why has the White Death pitted all these unsavory characters against one another, and is there more to this simple assignment than meets the eye?

Enter Kimura (Andrew Koji), a second-generation Triad member whose son was recently pushed off the roof of a downtown Tokyo shopping plaza. After receiving an anonymous note from someone claiming responsibility for his son's misfortune, Kimura boards the very same bullet train in the hopes of exacting bloody vengeance. Unbeknownst to him and his father (Hiroyuki Sanada), though, Kimura is walking right into a trap laid by the not-so-innocent Prince (Joey King), a young woman out to prove that she's more than just another pretty face. Finally, there's the Wolf (rapper Bad Bunny), a ruthless hitman who grew up on the mean streets of Mexico, where he also ended up finding the love of his life. However, when his new bride and all the guests at their wedding reception are unceremoniously murdered, the Wolf abandons his plans for marital bliss and embarks on a quest for revenge. It's a self-appointed mission that has also brought him to the same bullet train as everyone else. Yet, are any of them ready to discover how their various paths are violently and hilariously intertwined?

Based on the novel of the same name by Kōtarō Isaka, what follows is a slick and stylish exercise in genre moviemaking, as Leitch and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz expertly interweave the film's multitude of interconnecting subplots through a series of increasingly impressive and fast-paced action set pieces, all set to the musical accompaniment of a J-pop dance soundtrack and a few classic songs from the likes of Engelbert Humperdinck and Rare Earth. At the same time, however, viewers might find it all but impossible to decipher any genuine substance beneath Bullet Train's unmistakably glossy veneer. And even with the inclusion of a surprise couple of cameos that will definitely make many a filmgoer grin with glee, it's hard to walk away from the movie with the impression that what was just witnessed was anything more than carefully choreographed chaos.

It's certainly something of a shame, especially for fans of Pitt hoping to see the 58-year-old actor follow up his crowd-pleasing role in The Lost City with a film equally as entertaining. Granted, Bullet Train does manage to get a fair bit of mileage out of its Ocean's Eleven meets Kill Bill premise. Still, when it comes to its ultimate payoff, it's more than evident that the journey is of greater importance than the destination.

Bullet Train releases August 5th, 2022 from Sony Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for strong and bloody violence, pervasive language, and brief sexuality. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 6 min.

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