Even Brad Pitt Can’t Lend Bullet Train Some Steam

You know an action movie’s bad when it saps your will to live. Bullet Train directed by David Leitch and adapted from Kotaro Isaka’s 2010 novel Maria Beetle—is clearly designed to be pure, visceral entertainment, screaming fun!Every turn. But it’s a shrill, razor-shredded mess, a fringy assemblage of action, cartoony violence, and allegedly snappy dialogue that has the soporific effect of white noise. This proves that there is no better way to do bad work than doing nothing at all.

Brad Pitt stars as one of many largely uninteresting hit-persons rattling around on Japan’s high-speed you-know-what as it whirs from Tokyo to Kyoto. There are five of these killers aboard, if you’re counting, which is at least one thing that might get you through the movie’s interminable two-hour runtime. Joey King’s Prince, decked out in a hot-pink pleated-skirt combo that’s half Jackie Kennedy, half Harajuku schoolgirl, is a fierce tootsie with a handgun stashed in her tiny backpack. Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) are twin brothers tasked with retrieving the kidnaped ne’er-do-well son of a shadowy crime figure known as White Death, though their half-exacting, half-bumbling modus operandi—not to mention their persistent cartoon-squirrel arguments—keep tripping them up. Zazie beetz is known as the Hornet. This wily killer uses poisonous snakes to his advantage. A sixth player, the Wolf (Benito A Martínez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny), enters the fray as part of a revenge subplot involving the venom of said snake. Kimura (Andrew Koji), a furious dad, seeks to find the culprit or perpetrators of his child’s fall from a rooftop. The kid miraculously survived, but lies comatose in the hospital, and Kimura’s father, known as the Elder and played by the marvelous Hiroyuki Sanada, has urged him to redress this atrocity.

Hiroyuki Sanade in Bullet Train

Scott Garfield—Sony Pictures

Even describing these characters in a nominal way makes them seem a lot more enjoyable than they really are. Pitt is supposedly the movie’s anchor. As Ladybug, an imperturbable, stonerish gun-for-hire, his exquisitely lanky I-don’t-care hair tucked under a dopy bucket hat, he’s fun to watch for about five minutes. But his presence in the film is oddly muted, as if he’d just barely mustered the energy to roll out of bed and show up. In the sphere of roiling discontent known as the internet, the filmmakers have been criticized for whitewashing the source material; all the assassins in Isaka’s novel are Japanese. The casting of Hollywood big stars is one way to produce big Hollywood movies. Sanada, out of the many actors involved in this stupid, pointless exercise, commands the attention. Although he only appears at the start and in a few moments during the rest, his presence at end brings the film back to life. He’s regal, an action star with class, and he’s the one silken thread in this tattered monstrosity.

Read more reviews by Stephanie Zacharek

Leitch has been a professional stunt-performer for many years and is also a choreographer. He recently switched to producing and directdirecting. Atomic Blonde,Deadpool 2Please see the following: Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbes and Shire. (He also co-directed the first—and fabulous—John WickMovie with Chad Stahelski, another stuntman. This is where you can describe him as someone who specializes in the production of slick entertainments on a large budget. But schlocky shouldn’t be synonymous with carelessly bad. Bullet Train has a style all right: in an apparent attempt to mimic Tarantino’s affectionate use of deep cuts, the movie’s oh-so-cleverly curated vintagey soundtrack includes both a chipper Japanese cover of the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive” and Kyu Sakamoto’s 1963 international megahit “Sukiyaki.” And its zig-zaggy cutting and deployment of blood-spurting arteries and the like also nod to Tarantino, or perhaps more aptly to his friend and sometime filmmaking accomplice Robert Rodriguez. However, the action-movie’s now-classic mechanics feel a bit rushed and was not intended to be thrilling. Perversely, Bullet Train’It is exhausting to try and stimulate your brain in a frenetic way. This is more enervating that it is energizing.

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