“Bullet Train” gives us a brutal and relentless mix of comedy, action, and thriller which worked to some degree for me. While it is often entertaining to watch the game efforts from the cast and crew members of the movie, the movie does not have many things to distinguish it from many other similar action flicks out there, and I was also frequently distracted by its rather superficial handling of story background and characters.
At the beginning, the movie quickly establishes its story setting and premise while also introducing us to a seasoned mercenary who is currently called “Ladybug” (Brad Pitt). After some soul-searching and a series of psychiatric sessions, Ladybug has been determined to be as non-violent as possible for the rest of his career, and the latest job handed to him by his handler seems appropriate for that. All he has to do is finding and then retrieving a certain metal brief case on a Bullet Train ready to leave Tokyo early in the morning, and it looks like he will easily and quickly get the job done before the train arrives in Kyoto.
However, of course, it gradually turns out that the situation is a lot more complicated than our hero expected at first. There are already several mercenaries on the train, and they are certainly as dangerous as our hero can be. In case of one young woman introduced to us as “The Prince” (Joey King), she looks like your average British schoolgirl on the surface, but she is actually quite a lethal schemer, and her wily plan is already being executed mainly via a certain desperate Japanese dude who unwisely gets himself involved in her plan.
The movie also pays attention to an assassin duo called “Tangerine” (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and “Lemon” (Brian Tyree Henry), who are somehow called “twins” despite their apparent racial difference. As shown to us via a couple of very violent flashback sequences, they are pretty skillful killers, but they are also rather silly for their eccentric aspects, and one of the most amusing moments in the film comes from one of them frequently talking about the characters of a certain famous classic TV animation series for children.
Anyway, we later come to gather that these and other main characters in the story are the crucial parts of a secret plan involved with the fearsome Russian boss of a powerful gang organization in Japan. Tangerine and Lemon’s job is simply retrieving this Russian boss’ kidnapped son and the ransom money on this dude, but then they belatedly come to realize that they have been set up from the beginning, and they soon get themselves entangled with Ladybug and several other mercenaries on the train.
While the train keeps running rapidly on its course as usual, all these and some other characters clash with each other in one way or another, and director/co-producer David Leitch, who previous gave us “John Wick” (2014) and “Atomic Blonde” (2017), and his crew members accordingly serve us a series of frantic action scenes unfolded among Ladybug and other main characters in the film. At one point, our hero must confront a certain opponent of his without drawing any attention from nearby passengers, and that will certainly generate some amusement for you besides a substantial amount of thrill and excitement.
The screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, which is based on Kōtarō Isaka’s novel, also tries to bring some gravitas to its story and characters, though the result is often uneven and shallow in my humble opinion. All the main characters in the film remain to be more or less than cartoonish archetypes, so it is a bit too jarring when the movie becomes more serious with the late entrance of a certain important character. After juggling so many characters and actions, the movie literally gets derailed along with the train (Is this a spoiler?) around the narrative point where that fearful Russian boss character finally reveals himself as expected during the final act, and it eventually becomes less fun as drenched in heaps of uninspired CGI.
At least, the main cast members of the film have some juicy fun with their respective roles. While Brad Pitt usually functions as the straight hero of the story, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry often steal the show thanks to their effortless comic chemistry, and Henry, who has been one of the most reliable actors working in Hollywood since his excellent supporting works in “Widows” (2018) and “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018), is utterly uproarious as deftly balancing his character between seriousness and absurdity. Although her role is apparently a whitewashing version of your typical Japanese schoolgirl, Joey King manages to acquit herself at least. In case of several other main cast members including Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Zazie Beetz, and Benito A. Martínez Ocasio, who is also known as “Bad Bunny”, fill their respective spots as much as they can, and, if you still do not know anything about that, I will let you be surprised by the special appearance of two certain well-known Hollywood performers during the final act of the film.
In conclusion, “Bullet Train” is a fairly competent product, but it is not entertaining enough to compensate for a number of glaring flaws ranging from its weak storytelling to its strained attempt to westernize many of its main characters in the Asian background. Because it is one or two steps from “John Wick” and “Atomic Blonde” and I gave three stars to “John Wick” and “Atomic Blonde”, I give it 2.5 stars, but you will probably enjoy it enough if you ever happen to come across it while casually changing TV channels.