Bullet Train, review: Brad Pitt goes off the rails in a runaway wreck
15 cert, 126 mins. Dir: David Leitch. Starring: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Zazie Beetz, Sandra Bullock.
What modern blockbuster wouldn’t want to be likened to a bullet train? Exotic, sleek, unstoppably propulsive, engineered with precision and panache – in any country, east, west or in between, “the Shinkansen of action films” would be a serious compliment.
Sony Pictures’ Bullet Train, on the other hand, is the cinematic equivalent of the delayed 17.20 to Didcot Parkway, sitting in a siding somewhere outside Reading with broken air conditioning, a closed buffet car, cancelled seat reservations, the “See it, say it, sorted” announcement on repeat, and no trolley service due to a shortage of crew.
Brad Pitt stars as a low-level assassin with the code name Ladybug, who is ordered by a mostly unseen Sandra Bullock – merely the first of a trio of smirking star cameos, here – to retrieve a briefcase full of currency and bullion from a bullet train winding its way overnight from Tokyo to Kyoto. (In the real world, this journey takes one minute less to complete than it does to watch Bullet Train, and feels about five hours shorter than it.)
En route, Pitt is assailed by a gaggle of fellow hired killers, all apparently vying for the loot: these include two cockney assassins (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry), an innocent-looking schoolgirl (Joey King), and a Mexican cartel boss (Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, also known as the rapper Bad Bunny).
Much close-quarters fighting ensues, while a deadly snake and a water bottle spiked with sleeping draught slip around under the seats, ready to bite or be swigged at opportune moments. After an hour and 45 minutes, Michael Shannon arrives on the platform and explains what was going on.
Equipped with a dressing gown, Billy Connolly wig and thick Russian accent, Shannon’s performance is one of a man trying his hardest not to be recognised. Who could blame him?
The film’s version of Japan, largely rendered in computer graphics, is clankingly inauthentic, while the script, adapted by Zak Olkewicz from a novel by Kōtarō Isaka, veers between edginess by committee – lots of swearing and wannabe Guy Ritchie riffing – and sometimes staggering laziness. (At one point, Pitt signs off a comic monologue by inviting the listener to insert “I don’t know, something witty”.)
As a motor-mouthing smart-ass, the 58-year-old Pitt is badly miscast – every detail here seems tailored to Ryan Reynolds, director David Leitch’s Deadpool collaborator – while the film's bulging cast and bloated running time recalls those all-star capers of the 1960s: imagine It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World crossed with a migraine.
For the sake of all that’s holy, take the bus.
In cinemas from Wednesday August 3