The new movie “Bullet Train” takes a track similar to the film “Murder on the Orient Express,” except, unlike Albert Finney with a mustache, hyperactive “Bullet” might send the audience into seizures.
The lights are glaring neon and the quirky character flashbacks, a la “Family Guy,” arrive rapid-fire. Extended, calming shots come around as often as Halley’s Comet. It’s sensory overload – in a good way.
Running time: 126 minutes. Rated R (strong and bloody violence, pervasive language, and brief sexuality). In theaters.
And director David Leitch’s movie proves that, even in 2022, trains are excellent settings for sleazy high jinks. (Bong Joon-Ho’s film “Snowpiercer” and the musical “On The Twentieth Century” are other fine, very different examples.) All types of people ride them, there are clever places to hide and, for long stretches, you’re trapped on board.
“Bullet Train” is a fun flick, to be sure, reminiscent of director Guy Ritchie’s better crime comedies such as “The Gentlemen” with Hugh Grant. But, as the title suggests, it’s louder and faster. And, a warning to the squeamish, there’s a swimming pool’s worth of blood.
Brad Pitt plays a mercenary with the code name Ladybug – so-called for his luck, or lack thereof – tasked with recovering a metal briefcase with unknown contents from a train departing from Tokyo.
Little does Ladybug and his handler (Sandra Bullock on the phone, so she probably only had to show up to set for one day) know that more ne’er-do-wells are aboard the locomotive, including Shakespearean clowns Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry ) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who are in possession of both the briefcase and the son of a Russian crime lord called White Death (Michael Shannon).
Also seated in first class is a terrifying young woman called the Prince (Joey King), who has kidnapped a Japanese man (Andrew Koji) who she plans to use to kill the White Death.
More gangsters pop into frame, such as Wolf (Bad Bunny) and the Hornet (Zazie Beetz), and criminals are offed at random and with great creativity. The first one comes as a real shock and much of the enjoyment derives from guessing who will be killed next – and how.
Leitch, who also helmed the knockabout first “John Wick” movie, has assembled a sexy cast that is willing to get weird. Every character is a neurotic eccentric (Lemon is obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine, for example) and all the actors make them memorable.
In this cacophony of activity, some deaths are actually quite sad and serene. Our affection for all of these horrible people really sneaks up on us.
King, in particular, has a Veruca Salt witchiness that garners a scrumptious love-hate response. And Pitt’s chill character has embraced meditation later in life, and is a good fit for an actor who has relaxed a lot in general. Henry’s British accent could use some work, but he’s funny anyway.
Speaking of “Murder on the Orient Express,” Leitch’s movie is leagues better than Kenneth Branagh’s execrable version of Agatha Christie’s ensemble whodunit. There’s real energy and life here – not a mausoleum full of cash-checkers.
Still, the film’s lightness will be a problem for some. Everybody is dry, quick and seemingly unfazed by their dangerous predicament – like they’re dancing a caper rather than part of a crime caper. They have boisterous, exciting fights in full view of other passengers, yet nobody seems to mind.
For a late summer movie, though, it goes down smooth.
And much smoother than your average Amtrak ride.