‘Bullet Train’ Review: Brad Pitt Stars in a Thrill-Free Thrill Ride - Celebania


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Saturday 6 August 2022

‘Bullet Train’ Review: Brad Pitt Stars in a Thrill-Free Thrill Ride

‘Bullet Train’ Review: Brad Pitt Stars in a Thrill-Free Thrill Ride

The star plays one of a cluster of assassins on interconnected missions in David Leitch’s comedy action-thriller set aboard the Japanese high-speed train, also featuring Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree HenryPlus IconAUGUST 2, 2022 6:00AMThe early work of a string of directors comes to mind while watching Bullet Train, among them Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Guy Ritchie, Joe Carnahan and Timur Bekmambetov. The difference is that those filmmakers have mostly moved on from this kind of assaultive bloodbath, which pummels you into numbness with its onslaught of glib dark comedy, escalating carnage and over-the-top gore. David Leitch’s directing credits — Atomic BlondeDeadpool 2Hobbs & Shaw — have remained firmly tethered to his stunt background, occasionally with entertaining results. But his latest is so busy delivering violent action with a self-satisfied wink that its contorted plotting and one-note characters get real tedious real Leitch has served on multiple occasions as Brad Pitt’s stunt double, so there’s a certain symmetry in him shepherding a movie that relies so extensively on the star’s insouciant charisma. But even Pitt making a bucket hat look cool can’t rescue this laborious adaptation of Kôtarô Isaka’s 2010 novel Maria Beetle, scripted by Zak Olkewicz.

Release date: Friday, Aug. 5
Cast: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A Martinez Ocasio, Sandra Bullock
Director: David Leitch

Screenwriters: Zak Olkewicz, based on the novel Maria Beetle, by Kôtarô Isaka

Rated R, 2 hours 6 minutes

Unlike the book, in which all the assassins who find themselves at cross-purposes on the Tokyo-to-Kyoto bullet train are Japanese, most of the principal characters have had an international makeover, raising online objections to whitewashing. Core members of the creative team, including the novelist, have defended the casting choices, maintaining that realism is not a big factor in the setting or characters. But it’s perhaps significant that only when the dependably compelling Hiroyuki Sanada steps up to play a key part in the climactic action does anyone onscreen acquire a semblance of depth.

This is a thriller about family, fate and fortune in which the stakes are neutralized by the cartoonish extremes of the storytelling. Bullet Train begins with distraught father Kimura (Andrew Koji), a low-level criminal, standing over the hospital bed where his young son lies on life support after being pushed from the roof of a building. Sanada plays the boy’s grandfather, identified only as The Elder (like all the other characters, with dual-language onscreen text), a sternly disapproving man who commands his boozing son to take revenge and restore the family’s honor.  

That core story might be mired in the most stereotypical tropes of Asian cinema, but it doesn’t deserve to be so blithely swept aside by Pitt’s character, who goes by the operative name Ladybug, sauntering along the Tokyo streets to a Japanese cover of “Staying Alive.” Convinced he has terrible luck, which leads to frequent unintended deaths on his assignments, Ladybug is a recent therapy convert determined to resolve conflicts peacefully. But his handler (Sandra Bullock, unseen until near the end) persuades him between quips to go back to work, retrieving a briefcase from the bullet train.

His mission proves more complicated than expected when it overlaps with the job of two British assassins going by the names Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), whose bickering doesn’t hide their lifelong fraternal bond. Also on board is The Prince (Joey King), a second-generation killer who makes deft use of her innocent schoolgirl appearance to disarm her foes. The Hornet (Zazie Beetz) is an expert in poisons who spends much of the action incognito. One of her victims, The Wolf (Benito A Martinez Ocasio, aka rapper Bad Bunny), boards the train to avenge the loss of his wife at their wedding in Mexico. And there’s also a deadly snake, stolen from the zoo.

Ladybug keeps working on his personal growth, empathizing with lethal adversaries by offering lame pop-psych maxims like “Hurt people hurt people.” But he doles out his share of pain, as does everyone else enroute to Kyoto, where the feared Russian underworld kingpin known as The White Death (Michael Shannon) awaits them all with his squad of hitmen.

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