[Nightmarish Detour Review] BULLET TRAIN

[Nightmarish Detour Review] BULLET TRAIN
BULLET TRAIN l Sony Pictures
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from director David Leitch’s BULLET TRAIN. The trailer didn’t entirely sell me on the whole thing, but I’m happy to report that the completed film was misrepresented by the marketing. It’s all too common these days for trailers to do all the wrong things, like giving away too much, focusing on lame record-scratch style comedy, and generally selling films as something they’re not. BULLET TRAIN’s trailer made it out to look, well, silly.

Now, the full film is silly, sure. But it’s not the eye-rolling silly of the trailer. It’s gloriously silly. It knows exactly what it wants to be without even a whiff of pretentiousness. BULLET TRAIN is here to entertain you and nothing else. It takes elements from Kill Bill, John Wick (on which Leitch was an uncredited director), and Snakes on a Plane and combines them gleefully.

The plot sees Brad Pitt’s “Ladybug” – a hired assassin – tasked with retrieving a briefcase from an overnight bullet train that’s speeding from Tokyo to Kyoto. On board, he encounters Lemon and Tangerine (Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who also happen to be assassins on their own job. Then there’s Prince (Joey King) – a young woman who’s looking to extort Japan’s most notorious crimelord by holding his grandson hostage. Inevitably, all of these characters clash, and things become more and more convoluted to the joy of the screenwriter and (hopefully) the audience.

BULLET TRAIN makes clever use of its claustrophobic environs; it never really leaves the carriages for very long aside from intermittent flashbacks. Obviously, this was a maneuver to keep the budget in check, but there are plenty of twists and turns in the script to keep you from tiring of the setting.

The tight corridors of the train allow for a focus on the characters. They’re all morally reprehensible, but compellingly likable. Pitt doesn’t take himself seriously for a second, and “Ladybug” becomes one of the most appealing cinematic anti-heroes of recent times, which is refreshing in the age of DC and Marvel where everyone can be just a little too good.

The real heart of the film unexpectedly comes in the relationship between Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The two have a lot of chemistry and much of the film’s genuinely-earned laughs bloom from their dialogue. Henry’s obsession with Thomas The Tank Engine is charming in particular. Each of the characters has their own quirks which makes them memorable. What will probably get people talking the most though are a few brief cameos that almost lifted the audience out of their chairs.

After the trailer fell flat, it’s surprising how well the comedy works in BULLET TRAIN. This is a funny film, and it had the audience chuckling at the right moments. It lays on the dark humor thick and effectively, which is no surprise considering the director’s pedigree. There are more than just shades of Deadpool 2 here.

The action is superbly choreographed and makes clever use of the set’s tight spaces. All the battles and shootouts are splattered with lots and lots of red stuff. There’s no shortage of blood here, which is refreshing in a world of PG-13 action films. The fights get more and more outrageous as the film builds to a completely ridiculous climax which throws all the laws of physics out the window in the best way possible.

BULLET TRAIN knows exactly what it wants to be. It sets its tone early and never strays. It’s very likely that it won’t work for a lot of folks. My biggest complaint would be that there’s a little too much of a good thing. A few edits here and there may have helped for brevity’s sake. When the film ended, I heard one guy behind me say it was the “worst movie I’ve seen all year!” Even though the film is not perfect, I had the opposite reaction. This was the most fun I’ve had in the cinema this year next to Everything Everywhere All At Once. Sure, it won’t be for everyone, and it might even bomb in today’s environment, but if it does, this is the kind of movie that will become a cult thing in ten years’ time. Let’s see what happens, shall we?

BULLET TRAIN is now exclusively in theaters.

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