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Bullet Train Movie Review

by Robert Cain 2 months ago in review
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A couple of entertaining moments are drowned out by shallow characters and outlandish action.

After making his debut with the impactful John Wick, director David Leitch has swerved into more bloated action productions. Bullet Train tips itself as the next big action-comedy; instead it is dragged down by a hackneyed story and weak characters.

The movie begins as an assassin, codenamed Ladybug (Brad Pitt), boards a train from Tokyo to Kyoto. His objective? Steal a briefcase full of cash and escape alive. This is quickly complicated by many other operatives who have their eyes on the prize. There’s a British duo named Lemon (Bryan Tyree-Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) transporting a high-value individual, a man named The Father (Andrew Koji) looking for revenge on those who hurt his son and a manipulative woman named The Prince (Joey King) who always seems to talk her way out of desperate situations. The film cuts back and forth between these characters as they tussle over the main McGuffin, though not with much elegance. Bullet Train’s attempt at a zany, foul-mouthed caper falls by the wayside with weak pacing and a lack of investment. With multiple plot holes and a constant use of flashbacks, the film is never able to maintain a thrilling forward momentum. The former frequently brings the narrative to a halt and there’s even one moment where the film looks back on the story of a water bottle for the sole purpose of laying on some fancy camera tricks in the climax. The pacing is too muddled to create a worthwhile story with the only respite being a humorous sequence or two. One of these sees Ladybug and Tangerine briefly teaming up to trick a Yakuza gang on the train platform. If the film had more of these moments, it would have generated greater excitement.

The characters all have their own quirks and no one gives a particularly bad performance. What lets the cast down is the film’s refusal to develop them further. Brad Pitt is capable enough in the lead role, constantly making sarcastic comments over his predicament. What’s most disappointing about the cast is how they boil down to endless quips in-between action scenes. Lemon’s cringe-worthy references to Thomas the Tank engine quickly outwear their welcome and while Tangerine’s profane rants are humorous, the character rarely goes beyond his stereotype. The film’s half-hearted approach to characterisation clearly shows through two side characters; The Wolf (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio) and The Hornet (Zazie Beetz) are given a brief backstory before their full appearance, only to be killed off minutes after they are introduced. Whenever the characters are put through a more emotional moment, it’s hard to share in their plight before we’re thrusted back into the action.

Being based in one location, Bullet Train’s colourful set of carriages is a fine recreation. The locomotive ploughs through the night with plenty of overhead shots showing its rapid movements. Interior set work also makes each location feel distinctive, but once the action heats up, it all feels pretty generic. The fight scenes may be well staged but the production quickly defaults to CGI whenever a more over-the-top stunt enters the scene and these often undermine the film’s approach. How is one character able to break back into a train while it pushes ahead at top speed? These overblown moments don’t do the film any favours, replacing any witty writing with loud excess and unrealistic odds of survival. The music is also a headscratcher; at times a rendition of popular songs like “Stayin Alive” and “I Need A Hero” will enter the fray, but they don’t pull you into the more extravagant sequences.

Outside of some occasionally witty writing, Bullet Train rarely rises above surface-level enjoyment. Its characters fall short of fully engaging, the music interludes and flashbacks chop up the pacing and the overblown set pieces diminish any natural tension. It’s simply not worth watching, even if you’re a fan of the players involved.

Rating: 2/5 Stars (Disappointing)

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About the author

Robert Cain

I'm a well-travelled blogger and writer from the UK who is looking to spread his blogs and freelance writings further afield. You can find more of my work at https://robc25.wixsite.com/thecainagecritique.

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