Cinema expression is a curious thing. Like all art, it has its ups and downs, its preferences and penchant, and its disagreeable and disgusting elements. However, when you cut through all the guff of prestige and artistic integrity, what you are left with, more often than not, is entertainment. That’s certainly where Brad Pitt‘s latest effort, Bullet Train, lands after crashing through the silver screen at 200mph.
Of course, if you were expecting director David Leitch to provide you with anything but a thrill-a-minute joy ride through the pleasantries of Asian pastiche, then you likely haven’t seen his rap sheet. As well as John Wick, Atomic Blonde and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Leitch was part of the team that took on Deadpool 2, and the self-referential irreverence of that picture is threaded throughout this assassin-dripping piece of rip-roaring cinema.
Starring an impressive cast of assassins, Brad Pitt’s Ladybug operates as our central hero. Having found a simpler way of life through Buddhist teachings, Ladybug is hoping to deescalate his life even further and only took on this smash-and-grab job after another hired gun pulled out because of stomach troubles. With the help of his handler (Sandra Bullock), Ladybug has to identify and acquire a briefcase and leave at the next stop. An easy job, one might wrongly assume. However, he encounters a train full of dangerous people all out to destroy one another.
Pitt’s Ladybug is an enjoyable hero for audiences. Doused in a hefty dose of irony, he spends most of the time between throwing punches handing out life advice from his spiritual coaches as he attempts to avoid engaging in anything that could end his life. On his first run through the train, he meets the twins Lemon (Brian Tyree-Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who become the other leading lights of the production, and through some flashbacks, he begins to connect the story that’s about to unfold. Later a myriad of characters enter the fray; whether it is Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji), The Wolf (Bad Bunny), The Prince (Joey King) or The Hornet (Zazie Beats), they all invariably deliver a fantastic fight scene, a witty remark and a receptive audience for a piece of Ladybug’s life advice.
Outside of the action sequences, there is a lot to be desired. Endlessly inspired by Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, there are moments where the former’s wit can be felt and other moments where the litany of awful accents found in the latter’s filmography can also be embedded in one’s skull. While Tyree-Henry’s Lemon is easily the most lovable character in our story, his cockney accent reeks of the Dick Van Dyke school of crimes against London. Joey King doesn’t do much better in these stakes, but both instances of wonky pronunciations of “wor-tuh” are forgettable amid the broken glass and spilt blood.
As the story unfolds and the MacGuffin becomes ever more tantalising, it is clear that everyone is connected and that the rivers at play run deeper than first expected. In truth, that notion runs against the ideals of the movie at large. everything about Bullet Train, save for the celebrity cameos, is to be expected.
Ever since the aforementioned red-suited action movie blew the records out of the water and confirmed that we like our action stars to come with a large portion of humour, cinema has welcomed action movies into the comedy space. Bullet Train delivers on that front with only a portion of the wisecracks landing with a whimper. Elsewhere, the highly-choreographed fight sequences are brutal, candid and, again, a little comedic in spots, but they’re gilded with the stylised nuances that one might expect from the man behind John Wick. There is also the expected neon-flickered ravaging of Japanese culture that is hard to ignore, even if it is pursued in the most honest of ways.
Another expectation I am very sure will be met is that most critics will, I’m certain, dislike Bullet Train. It certainly doesn’t provide much in the way of intelligent discussion or provoke any thought outside of “I wonder if it is possible to have a fight in a quiet carriage?”
The truth is, this cartoonish crash through our screens is not designed to do any of that. It is designed to go fast, very, very fast, and delight everyone on board as it does. Efficient in its delivery and ruthless in its refusal to bend to cinematic legacy, Bullet Train is the kind of film made for weekends with your friends and family, twirling a straw in your shake while a gentle smile on your face that belies the blissful nothingness behind it.
Not everything in the cinema needs to be art or influenced by the wagging tail of Federico Fellini’s dog. Sometimes, a movie can just be a movie, a piece of entertainment. Bullet Train is certainly that.
Bullet Train opens in cinemas on August 3rd.