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  • Writer's pictureDenise Breen

Bullet Train - probably one of Tarantino's best , except he didn't make it

3.5 out of 5

BULLET TRAIN is based on the novel Maria Beetle by Japanese author Kotaro Isaka. Published in 2010, the novel is the satirical story of career criminal codenamed "Ladybug" (Brad Pitt) who has spent some time working on self-reflection and trying to live a more peaceful existence. But now he's preparing for his latest job: snatching a briefcase from a bullet train that runs between Tokyo and Kyoto. Unfortunately, the gig isn't so simple. "Tangerine" (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and "Lemon" (Brian Tyree Henry) are supposed to deliver the case, along with a warlord's son (Logan Lerman), but they lose both. And "The Prince" (Joey King) is blackmailing a man (Andrew Koji) into helping assassinate the warlord, who's also known as The White Death. Meanwhile, someone is poisoning people with snake venom, and a killer is seeking revenge. Is all of it somehow connected? And can Ladybug get out of this mess alive? Confused? Graba first -class ticket and enjoy the ride.

With gleefully excessive Tarantino-esque violence and little depth, this oversized action thriller executes its many moving parts with skill, but it's Pitt's dopey, languid performance that keeps the balance. Directed by David Leitch who brought us the surprisingly good Atomic Blonde, Bullet Train is a little like a multiple-character heist movie such as Ocean's Eleven or Logan Lucky, except that the why and how is less important than the what, which in this case is the fight scenes. The movie delights in pitting its many trained fighters and killers against as many obstacles as possible. Suspense is generated when characters sometimes come back from certain defeat (such as one who's thrown off the train, jumps back onto its tail end, and then tries to work his way back inside) or when a previously planted item, like a poisonous snake, pops up again.

Thunderous, nonstop films filled with constant fighting can get exhausting but director Leitch, a former stunt performer and coordinator who turned to filmmaking with John Wick, has a good sense of rhythm. His stops and starts, flashbacks and reveals all effectively build a rhythm that flows and doesn't feel oppressive. But Pitt is the secret weapon. Ladybug can certainly fight, but the character is more of a talker than a fighter, and he's forever looking for ways to make things easier on himself. His laid-back quality adds a soft, sweet center to a hard, crunchy movie. (Henry's character's passion for Thomas the Tank Engine is also a nice, sweet touch.) All in all, Bullet Train may disappear into the horizon fairly soon after viewing, but it's a fun ride while it lasts.

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