Bullet Train

In DVD/Blu-ray by Alex Moss Editor

In the previous decade Brad Pitt was an actor determined to get his teeth into meaty roles. From Moneyball to Ad Astra he was clearly an actor on a drive to challenge himself and break the mold of those matinee idol looks of his. Since winning his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood  he’s clearly decided to have a bit more fun with his role choices. Cue Bullet Train, an MTV edited, neon baked action comedy that feels very much in the vein of the zeitgeist of Marvel banter.

Ladybug (Pitt) is an assassin who is returning to the field after something of a mid-life crisis. Adamant his luck has run out he no longer wants to carry a gun. But when he’s asked to do a job of retrieving a briefcase from the titular Bullet Train he finds himself pitted against a host of other assassins. This rogue’s gallery of killers include ‘twins’ Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), Prince (Joey King) and poison expert The Hornet (Zazie Beetz). What they all soon discover is they might be being played by a higher force.

Imagine if The Usual Suspects was a comedy set on a speeding train and directed by early Guy Ritchie and you’re somewhere close to Bullet Train. On the one hand it makes little sense, rattles along like, well, a speeding train, and is never designed to be anything other than forgettable fun. And on that front, it works. The issue is that it is symptomatic of the currency of modern cinema. It feels the need to be more witty, glib and quippy than it has any interest in telling a story or developing characters. As such, it’s like a Happy Meal, you eat it, you enjoy the toy and 5 minutes after you finished you cannot remember anything in particular about it.

That being said, it is fun. In a stupid, over the top, let’s put in enough cuts to make you feel dizzy kind of way. The action is kinetically choreographed, allowing you to see much of what is going on while keeping a clear focus of the geography of the situation. Where it can drag is insisting on telling ‘backstories’ in the form of “20 minutes previously” including one about a bottle of water. It’s examples like this that makes it feel like it’s trying just a little too hard.

Thankfully, the cast are all having an absolute blast. Tyree Henry continues to be a both warm and funny screen presence off the back of his wonderful turn as Paper Boi in Atlanta. Taylor-Johnson has entered a fascinating junction in his career where he’s not a leading man but an endlessly fun supporting actor. Here he’s one of the funniest characters on offer and one you can easily see being the lead in a film of his own. Meanwhile Pitt, who has always been at his best playing quirky outsiders, is clearly in cruise control but in a very enjoyable way. Pitt’s natural charm and charisma shine bright and it’s his sheer pleasure in the role that makes the film often infectious.

Not a first class ride but this Bullet Train does enough to get to its slightly haphazard destination in time.