There’s a bit towards the end of this glossy action-thriller where Brad Pitt is pummelling a goon with a fire extinguisher. The ill-fated man takes several blows to the face before Pitt’s operative-for-hire Ladybird nozzles him with some foam for good measure, before resuming with the head-bashing.
By this stage in Atomic Blonde director David Leitch’s latest slice of high-octane hokum, you will absolutely know how the man feels. Bullet Train leaves you so punch drunk from its smart-aleck plot twists, matey-matey cameos and inconsequential dust-ups, you can barely absorb the weightless, CG-drenched OTT ending.
The setting, a high-speed Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, is a lot smoother than the storytelling. Aboard this sleek locomotive are a loosely connected group of violent professionals: some looking for revenge; some on a job that will spell death for their fellow passengers; some babysitting the son of a ruthless Russian mobster called the White Death (Michael Shannon). Oh, and slithering around somewhere among them is a deadly snake.
Into this combustible, complex mix comes Pitt’s snatch-and-grab man Ladybird, who just needs to pick up a briefcase and get off the train. Ladybird is fresh from therapy and on a mission of personal growth, and the movie star has fun with his reluctant use of violence and fondness for a self-help aphorism.
Bullet Train takes obvious inspiration from Tarantino in its (wildly overused) flashback structure, quirky music cues (shout out to Engelbert Humperdinck’s ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’) and splashy violence.
It leaves you so punch drunk, you can barely absorb the weightless, CG-drenched OTT ending
That it actually feels a lot closer to Guy Ritchie is probably unfair to the Brit, who would have taken one look at this ‘Lock, Stock and Two Non-Smoking Carriages’-alike effort and got rid of several characters, at least six flashbacks and probably (sorry) the distracting Channing Tatum cameo. Say what you will but early-career Ritchie knew how to keep a yarn lean and mean.
It’s a shame because there are redeeming qualities. The cast is fun, especially Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry as a pair of contract killers, and legendary Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada brings much-needed grativas as a vengeful gangster. The fight scenes are as expertly choreographed and bruising as you’d expect from Leitch, one-time stunt double for Pitt and the man who helped bring John Wick into the world. People do nifty things to each other with dinner trays.
What’s missing is a bit of heart to make you care, or at least, a sense of knowing how to wrap it up quickly enough, and smartly enough, for it not to matter if you don’t. An amped-up Friday night audience might have fun with Bullet Train once, but it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to ride it again.
In cinemas worldwide now.