If 2022 is the year of the movie star thanks to Tom Cruise’s resurgent form, then Brad Pitt makes for a convincing rival.
Because the largely entertaining action flick Bullet Train rolls along on the power of Pitt’s megawatt charisma – and sometimes on that alone.
The David Leitch-directed action comedy has a lot going for it, an unapologetically rambunctious tone, slick stunts and combat sequences and a colourful, pizzazzy visual aesthetic that pops.
But it’s also messy, swerving from euphoric highs to sloppy lows with its uneven pacing sometimes speeding at the breakneck pace of a, well, bullet train, while other times it feels as if it’s moving about as fast as a sloth on land.
Pitt stars as Ladybug, a relatively mild-mannered assassin who’s only just getting back into the game. Armed with his bucket hat, his winning smile and a heavy dose of skepticism, Ladybug boards a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto for his assignments from him, a supposedly simple snatch and grab job.
His target is a briefcase containing lots and lots of money.
But nothing is simple in the guns-for-hire business, especially when Ladybug is convinced he’s the unluckiest person on Earth.
As bad luck – or a vast, overly complicated scheme – would have it, Ladybug isn’t the only assassin on the train. Far from it. This particular train is a convergence point for several killers, all with equally adorable codenames.
There’s The Prince (Joey King), a ruthless killer who uses her appearance of British schoolgirl-in-distress to great effect, Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), two assassin brothers with matching checked coats, The Wolf (Benito A. Martinez Ocasio), an assassin with vengeance on his mind and The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), a poison specialist.
And they all want either the case or someone connected to it, which makes Ladybug’s simple task rather complicated.
That’s Bullet Train‘s main failing – just how convoluted the plot is. It labors to contrive all these complications involving myriad killers, hidden agendas and a boss-level target (Michael Shannon), and it struggles to keep its flow.
Just as you’re pulled into the visceral joys of a stylish, high-octane action sequence, you’re being asked to simultaneously keep track of the increasingly knotty plot. Wait, what’s that guy’s beef with this dude again?
There are some genuinely great “phwaor” moments, including a scene-stealing turn from legendary Japanese actor and martial artist Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays The Elder, another – you guessed it – assassin.
Or the legitimately endearing, continued references to Thomas the Tank Enginewith which Lemon is obsessed, and becomes something of a fun touchpoint in various scenes.
And the fight sequences are creative, imaginative and well-staged – and they punch. But that’s what you would expect from Leitch, who spent many years as Pitt’s stunt double before moving into directing with John Wick, Atomic Blonde and Dead Pool 2.
Given the caliber of Leitch’s history, plus an exciting cast and a riotous vibe, Bullet Train should’ve been a fantastic movie if it had been tighter, or even more brazen with its bloodshed.
It’s certainly not John Wick on a train. If it had been, it would’ve been a less shambolic experience.
Bullet Train is in cinemas now