David Leitch knows how to show you a good time, at least if your idea of a good time as a moviegoer involves absurdly over-the-top action sequences and complementary humor.
That’s what you get in hearty helpings from the director of “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2” in his latest hilarious effort, the stylish “Bullet Train,” which hits theaters this week.
The film stars Brad Pitt, for whom Leitch was a stunt double in several films, including 1999’s “Fight Club” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” but also has a supporting cast that also includes Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Hiroyuki Sanada, Joey King, and other recognizable faces.
As Ladybug, a killer going through an existential crisis and regularly reciting phrases and concepts he’s absorbed in therapy, Pitt is one of the main reasons “Bullet Train” never loses its welcome with its parade of violence and attempted murder. , successful or not.
Regularly speaking on the phone with a handler who remains unseen until the film’s final moments, the usually unlucky Ladybug boards a train on the Shinkansen, Japan’s network of high-speed rail lines. He’s there for what is, theoretically, a simple snatch-and-grab job: quickly and quietly obtain a briefcase full of millions of dollars and get off the train, but he soon finds himself caught up in a web of killers with different agendas and goals. levels of interest in said briefcase.
Among them are the “twin” brothers Tangerine (Taylor-Johnson, “Godzilla”) and Lemon (Henry); El Lobo (Benito A Martínez Ocasio, also known as musical star Bad Bunny); and, finally, The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), a master of disguise who favors a specific poison as a means to a particularly gruesome end.
However, the most dangerous person, at least aboard the train for most of its journey, may be The Prince (King), a young woman whose diminutive stature makes her inconspicuous during much of the bloodstained proceedings.
And surely the fray will eventually be joined by a mysterious and powerful criminal known as The White Death. With a notable exception or two, none of them want any of that noise.
With the help of collaborators including production designer David Scheunemann (“Atomic Blonde”), editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir (“Atomic Blonde”), director of photography Jonathan Sela (“The Lost City”), and music supervisor Season Kent (“Superman & Lois”), Leitch has cooked up a dish full of flavor.
Much of the spice comes from its Japanese setting, but know that the film, adapted by Zak Olkewicz (“Fear Street: Part Two – 1978”) from a novel by Kotaro Isaka, has drawn criticism for casting white actors as characters that in the book are Japanese. Isaka has defended the whitewashing charges by saying that the characters are “ethnically malleable”.
Regardless, the characters are fun, especially Ladybug, who is infused with equal parts sweetness and concern by Pitt, which goes very well with the character’s wisdom to work on himself.
“Let this be a lesson in the toxicity of anger,” he says after something unfortunate happens to an enemy aboard the train.
The next best character is Henry’s Lemon, who credits his knack for judging others on time with children’s entertainment staple Thomas the Tank Engine. The constant reference to Thomas frustrates Tangerine, but he admits that Lemon is rarely wrong when he negatively labels someone as “Diesel”. Henry, who, like the talented Beetz, is a cast member of FX’s fabulous series “Atlanta,” gives a memorable performance.
“Bullet Train” also benefits from King, best known for “The Kissing Booth” and the star of the recent Hulu movie “The Princess,” who is delightfully deceitful as The Prince.
However, the real star is the action, which is no surprise given Leitch’s expertise in fight choreography and stunt coordination, as well as directing credits that also include “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.” ” and “John Wick”, who collaborated with him. -managed.
Here, he conceives of some clever sequences on board, and off, the fast-moving train that are almost completely unconcerned with realism. However, it uses a lot of slow motion, and sometimes you wish this movie lived up to the speed that its title connotes.
And even though several characters spend their last moments on the train, it never seems like the stakes are high. Perhaps a little more realism would have helped matters. On the other hand, maybe not: providing laughs is clearly the main objective here, and one that is fulfilled.
Ultimately, “Bullet Train” is meant to be one big slice of mindless escapism, and it succeeds at that. Before the train literally rolls off the tracks, we get everything from a poisonous snake to an elaborate modern bathroom that Ladybug confuses.
Refreshingly, all of its myriad moving pieces fit together quite nicely, which I’d suppose is a credit to Isaka, even if it’s hard to imagine this story being told in book form.
“Bullet Train” is rated R for strong and bloody violence, pervasive language, and brief sexuality. Duration: 2 hours, 6 minutes.