Brad Pitt shines as a hapless assassin in an otherwise exhausting adaptation that thinks it's a lot funnier than it actually is
If you are human, you will surely enjoy Brad Pitt wearing a bucket hat and strolling the streets of Tokyo to the tune of “Stayin’ Alive,” still charming in the laid-back, boy-next-door way that made the world fall in love with him decades ago. But if you reach for an iota of your critical faculties, it’s clear that this moment is just shamelessly graverobbing from another great film – and that’s before all the cinematic shoplifting from Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie has even kicked in. David Leitch’s Bullet Train, an engaging enough but shopworn “comedy” set in Japan, never quite manages to make its existence feel necessary: yet another big-budget caper with a 24-hour expiration date.
Granted, when action films often suffer from too much plot, the concept here is pleasingly simple. Six assassins – Ladybug (Brad Pitt), Prince (Joey King), Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), Hornet (Zazie Beetz) and Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji) – are all aboard a bullet train heading from Tokyo and Kyoto, and each have a mission to complete related to a money-stuffed briefcase and the mysterious “White Death” (Michael Shannon). As missions are complicated as they reach their destination, members are picked off one by one (a particularly undignified end is met by Logan Lerman, who seems to be doing Post Malone cosplay), and Ladybug must rely increasingly on his remote handler to figure out how to survive.
There’s little surprise that the co-director of John Wick can piece together some pleasing action set-pieces, which are involving and inventive here; and aside from some shoddy CGI in the final ten minutes that tips proceedings into the realm of the ridiculous, the film – cribbing a Nippon aesthetic of nighttime neon – looks good, too. While the comedy doesn’t quite flow as well as the briefcase blunders in What’s Up, Doc?, there is nice rapport between Taylor-Johnson’s Tangerine (waistcoated suit, 70s-style moustache, no notes) and his “brother” Lemon. Henry and King’s English accents are so bad that they almost feel like they should be career-ending, but in a probably unintentional way, this provides a bit of humour.
But as is the case with the vast majority of uncritically mass-produced content masquerading as the seventh art, Bullet Train is demeaned by endless dumb quips and a conveyor belt of cameos designed to make us sit and clap with glee like toy monkeys – the ultimate sign of franchise brainworms from this rare, non-franchise film. When the humour in this supposed comedy is actually just bland smarm from the recesses of the studio wastebin, it’s hard to get excited about anything else about the film, because you feel so patronised. Between that and all the product placement, there’s just something icky and cynical about the entire thing.
Bullet Train might have been better if someone had removed all the idiotic banter from the script, but a film that thinks it is more goofy and quirky than it is always ends up leaving a sour taste.
Bullet Train is released in UK cinemas on 3 August.Where to watch