Bullet Train

All a bored

I may have liked this movie better had I not first read the darkly comic, smart, and philosophical source novel by Kotaro Isaka. Nah. Probably not. Basically, it’s the brutal and violent (but, you know, funny) story of a half dozen badass hit (wo)men aboard a very rapidly moving train working at cross purposes.

My main question going in was how director (and former stuntman) David Leitch (Deadpool 2) and screenwriter Zak
Olkewicz would handle what is arguably the central character, a purely evil, Machiavellian monster of a 14-year-old schoolboy known as ‘The Prince.” The answer: They pretty much ignored him, creating a far simpler character with entirely different motives.

So it’s billed as a madcap, violent, stylishly-lit, bloody and dopey-but-fun romp aboard a speeding shinkansen. Okay, there’s an audience for this kind of thing, and while one becomes resigned to surviving it, it’s doubtful it will reach the cult status it’s clearly aiming for. Brad Pitt carries the movie with his effortless charm and comic timing, backed up by spot-on performances by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry. But I predict Razzies. Several of them. Leading the list is the usually excellent Michael Shannon as a Russian yakuza boss named “White Death.” I did not make that up (but to be fair, neither did Isaka). I felt compassionate shame for my Japanese friends when the yakuza thugs finally showed up, so cartoonish they looked like Mad Max cosplay. Hell, I felt sorry for the yakuza!

Anyone offended by this violence, gore and adrenalized idiocy can only blame themselves; it’s all in the trailers. It gets worse; in the third act it shifts from dumb fun to just plain dumb. And then it gets dumber. It abandons the book’s intricate, ironic and very satisfying denouement for, well, a train wreck, both figurative and literal. By the very welcome closing credits. I was literally slack jawed, thinking, “WTF did I just watch?”, and not in a good way. Read the novel; miss the train. (127 min)