Let’s hope the estimable Brad Pitt isn’t giving us his leading-man swansong with this weirdly exhausting and overwhelmingly unfunny gonzo-violent action comedy set on a Japanese bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto – with the film’s frantically hyperactive tempo cranked up in homage to the locomotive speed. This film would be an awful way for Pitt’s performance career to hit the buffers and he is given lines like: “He follows me around like… something witty.”
It’s a semi-westwashed version of the bestselling 2010 novel by Japanese author Kotoro Isaka, and directed by David (Deadpool 2) Leitch, all about a bunch of wacky assassins aboard the train, their murderous destinies all chaotically colliding, and all turning out to have more to do with each other than they think.
With the whip-pans and crash zooms, the sudden flashbacks, the voiceovers, stylized punchups, shootings and stabbings and inter titles introducing the zany characters and geezer crims – two of whom are cockneys and serious West Ham fans – this is worryingly like something by Guy Richie. (Although Brad Pitt’s eccentric performance as a traveler in Ritchie’s film Snatch is better than anything here.)
Pitt himself, in goofy bucket-hat, nerdy glasses and superannuated surfer dude gear, plays a laidback hitman codenamed “Ladybug” whose handler (Sandra Bullock) gives him an easy job, to ease him back into the game after an uproarious series of calamities in previous missions.
All he has to do is grab a cash-stuffed briefcase belonging to two other killers: Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) who have just rescued the son of a noted mobster from a kidnapping and this money is the ransom they didn’t need to pay. They both talk with poundshop Laarndaarn accents and Lemon has an obsession with, of all the quirky-cool things, Thomas the Tank Engine – an elaborate yet perfunctory character touch which is about 47% as funny and well-observed as it needed to be.
Meanwhile there’s another bloodthirsty Brit aboard, codenamed the Prince: a psychopathic high-schooler played by Joey Prince, who has attempted to kill the infant son of a fellow passenger, Japanese killer Kimura (Andrew Koji) and retains a sinister hold over him – but may yet have to reckon with Kimura’s own father, known as the Elder, in which role veteran player Hiroyuki Sanada comes closer than anyone in the cast to actually being cool.
There’s another killer on the train called the Wolf (Benito A Martinez Ocasio) with a grudge against Ladybug, another called Hornet (Zazie Beetz) and towering over everyone in legendary evilness is the White Death (Michael Shannon) waiting on the platform at Kyoto.
It rattles strenuously on and on and on with unexciting and uninterestingly choreographed fights, cameos which briefly pep up the interest and placeholder non-lines where the funny material should have gone. Pitt’s puppyish good nature keeps it from flatlining entirely but he doesn’t have anything like the script and direction that he got from Soderbergh or Tarantino or Fincher. And the Japanese setting is handled really cursorily; there are gags about Japanese toilets which should have gone out in the 1980s. This is a tourist ride to nowhere.