Monday, 15 August 2022

Film Review: Bullet Train

Brad Pitt faces off against a cavalcade of deadly assassins whilst travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto, in David Leitch's action-packed and colourful, Bullet Train

What does one of the most famous actors on the planet do when, after decades in the business, they're finally handed that prestigious Oscar statuette? If they're anything like Brad Pitt, they take a bit of a breather, before swerving around more awards fare, and diving head first into something splashy and bloody like Bullet Train.

Yes, believe it or not, this is Pitt's first leading role since the one-two punch of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Ad Astra back in 2019, and while it doesn't feel like he's been off our screens for that long, it has been the better part of a decade since he fronted a major summer blockbuster (since World War Z, by my count). And who better to do it with than David Leitch, the man behind the likes of Deadpool 2 and the Fast and Furious spin-off, Hobbs and Shaw

It's an interesting choice for Pitt, who doesn't dip his toe into action that often – and I'll be honest, it's a little bit of a mismatch, in terms of physicality and personality, between Pitt and his 'professional assassin' character, codenamed Ladybug. I had a hard time buying Pitt as this former cold-hearted killer, who has recently reformed after attending therapy – which, by the way, is a joke we've seen or heard a hundred times before.

But plausibility isn't what Bullet Train is about, something that becomes evident pretty quick once the ensemble is introduced. Also riding the train are the likes of Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), two British assassins with a similar goal to Ladybug; Prince (Joey King), a mercenary posing a sweet schoolgirl; The Wolf (played by rapper Bad Bunny), a Mexican contract killer; and The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), a killer who specialises in poisons. 

The characters are colourful and broad, fatefully thrust together by some unknown force. There's a lot of plot burdening Bullet Train down, and the film (and the train for that matter) is moving so fast that it's hard to keep pace with it all. Does it actually matter? Well, not really – I'd suggest just punching a ticket and enjoying the ride, since the film doesn't seem overly interested in hooking you with its world. 

Instead, it wants you to focus on the flashy stuff – the action, the gunplay, the kooky dialogue and running jokes that they keep coming back to. Bullet Train is imbued with the same kind of irreverent, wink-wink humour that Leitch has dabbled in before in the aforementioned Deadpool and Fast and Furious franchises. And whilst that makes for something quite light and frothy, I can't help but think that this premise with these people and this setting, would have been a really tasty proposition had anyone on set actually treated it with a modicum of sincerity, instead of silliness. 

It also falls victim to the cardinal movie sin of cameos that serve as the punchline in and of themselves, with nothing else to prop them up. I won't spoil them here, but cameos need to have a little more weight to them, to be truly worthwhile or memorable. 

Ah well, let's not get bummed out by what might have been, and instead focus on the film we got. Looking at it through that lens, Bullet Train is fine. Good, even. The MVP is without a doubt Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who boasts a broad Cockney accent that just tickled me. Likewise, Brian Tyree Henry gets an A for effort in the accent department, even if his natural American creeps in once or twice in literally every line reading. 

All this is to say I was along for the ride, up until the third act. It's here that Bullet Train doesn't know when to call it quits, and just keeps rolling on and on, testing the patience of the audience. 

The Verdict: 6.5/10

Before it flies off the rails and careens into a deep ravine in the third act, Bullet Train is a fun time. On paper, it could be the 2022 answer to Speed, but after the 90-minute mark it's more akin to Speed 2: Cruise Control (they even share Sandy).

Bullet Train is in cinemas across Australia now.

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