Bullet Train (2022)

The success of movies like Deadpool and John Wick has led to a number of similar films in recent years.  It's not surprising to find that they are pretty much coming from the same group of people.  David Leitch, who directed Deadpool 2, co-directed John Wick with Chad Stahelski, who has gone on to have commercial and cult success with the Bob Odenkirk vehicle Nobody as well as the John Wick sequels.  All the movies in varying degree feature over-the-top violence and wisecracking assassins - other than John Wick, who is a man of few words. 

It is no surprise that, after Deadpool 2, Leitch got a healthy amount of money to make Bullet Train, based on a novel by Kôtarô Isaka.  A good portion of the money went to pay Brad Pitt's salary, but a large chunk also undoubtedly was spent on the various sets and the awful CGI to try to convince viewers this was taking place in Japan on a train running from Tokyo to Kyoto.  Where Stahelski has opted for location filming, this was made under COVID-19 restrictions and, unfortunately, it is obvious in many places.  

A thief codenamed Ladybug (Pitt) receives an assignment to snatch a briefcase on a bullet train and then leave at the first stop.  The carriers of the briefcase, Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), are transporting it and the son (Logan Lerman) of a Russian mob boss known as the White Death (Michael Shannon).  Their employer is not one to be messed with, so when they both lose the briefcase and come back to find the son dead, they must figure out what to do. 

Meanwhile, a girl named Prince (Joey King) is forcing an unwilling accomplice named Kimura (Andrew Koji) into rigging the suitcase in an assassination attempt against the White Death.  Ladybug knows none of this, only that he is suddenly running into internationally known assassins left and right and can't manage to leave the train.  He puts it down to his own bad luck and trying to survive, particularly when Lemon and Tangerine figure out he is the one that stole the case.  As the train approaches Kyoto, where the White Death is waiting, the survivors must come up with a plan to stay alive. 

Bullet Train has a number of comedic cameos, much of it in response to Deadpool 2 having Brad Pitt and a number of other celebrities pop up briefly before dying.  Many of the actors had also worked with each other on other projects in the past, so much of Bullet Train is self-referential.  It also goes out of its way to make the characters quirky and to use some fourth-wall breaking storytelling techniques.  It has been compared to Quentin Tarantino films, but I don't see any of that here since his movies are usually filled with character-building conversations that lead to sudden intense violence.  This is more a straight-ahead action comedy. 

That is also where the movie stumbles.  David Leitch and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz are trying way too hard to inject the off-kilter humor of a Deadpool into a movie that is equal parts John Wick, Snowpiercer and a Jackie Chan film.  It's good that Pitt and many of the others do their own stunt work, and much of the movie is entertaining, but there is this sense of a host trying way too hard to please a houseguest.  It also has some major action sequences that are badly filmed, largely due to overuse of CGI, and it becomes impossible to suspend disbelief.  This compounds by the end and takes away any sort of tension that should have been left to close out the film, even if it does end on a fitting note. 

I still enjoyed Bullet Train, and I am quite happy with where these types of movies are heading.  There just needs to be a few more writers and directors getting in on them, and less pressure to impress.  It's high time a new style of action film comes back as it is clear that just redoing the old '80s style is not going to work, and honestly shouldn't work.  A little less fantasy this time around would have been helpful, as well as less of a feeling that I was watching grown people play around on sets in front of a green screen. 

Bullet Train (2022)
Time: 127 minutes
Starring: Brad Pitt, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Joey King, Michael Shannon 
Director: David Leitch



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