BULLET TRAIN Movie Poster | ©2022 Sony Pictures

BULLET TRAIN Movie Poster | ©2022 Sony Pictures

Rating: R
Stars: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A Martinez Ocasio, Sandra Bullock, Logan Lerman
Writer: Zak Olkewicz, based on the novel MARIA BEETLE by Kotaro Isaka
Director: David Leitch
Distributor: Columbia/Sony
Release Date: August 5, 2022

BULLET TRAIN moves like its namesake, increasing in velocity until the film seems to be going at two hundred miles an hour. The screenplay by Zak Olkewicz, adapted from Kotaro Isaka’s novel MARIA BEETLE, takes pains to explain things (often more than once), but it’s wise to hang on tight to the exposition to avoid getting blown off-track.

BULLET TRAIN is set mostly on its title conveyance, a sleek sixteen-car passenger transport in Japan that makes the Tokyo/Kyoto run in twenty-one hours.

Ladybug (Brad Pitt) – that’s the code name given to him for this operation – is a specialist who is gingerly coming back to work after a hiatus. He is determined to improve his mental health by trying to see things from other people’s points of view, engaging in peaceful conflict resolution, and avoiding violence. Ladybug also believes, rightly or wrongly, that he has very bad luck.

This all seems at odds with Ladybug’s profession, which we quickly gather from both flashbacks and his physical proficiency is all manner of illegal activities. Ladybug is a last-minute substitute for someone named Carver on this job, which is supposed to be a simple snatch-and-grab.

The object in question is a money-filled briefcase, which is currently in the custody of two working-class English “professionals.” These are longtime friends, code-named Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry). They are aboard the bullet train with the briefcase and the son (Logan Lerman) of one of the most feared gangsters on the planet, the White Death.

The White Death hired Tangerine and Lemon to rescue his son and the briefcase holding the ransom from a gang of yakuza kidnappers. Having successfully (albeit bloodily) performed said rescue, Tangerine and Lemon are now on their way to give the White Death back what’s his.

Ladybug doesn’t know about any of this, but clearly, his objective is at odds with that of the Englishmen.

Then there’s Kimura (Andrew Koji), a low-level gangster who is on the train to get revenge on whoever put his little boy in the hospital.

There are also a couple of other assassins on the train, plus someone who has launched yet another complex scheme of vengeance.

There is one huge coincidence at the heart of BULLET TRAIN, but most of the seemingly disparate elements turn out to be connected. Olkewicz’s script sets up the story nicely, but the main fun here is both the action and the characters.

Director David Leitch, a former stuntman/stunt coordinator himself, and BULLET TRAIN stunt coordinator Greg Rementer revel in every physical possibility the situations present. We get fistfights, gunfights, knife fights, sword fights, and vehicular stunts, all performed with lightning speed and enormous prowess, often recognizably by the actors (as opposed to their stunt doubles).

What we might not expect is the charm of the performers, with Pitt at his gentlest and funniest. Taylor-Johnson and Henry have bravura comedic timing and terrific chemistry with each other and with Pitt. While Koji is playing a supporting role, we are moved by his character’s redemptive arc. Others who make strong impressions include Joey King, Michael Shannon and a deeply authoritative Hiroyuki Sanada.

BULLET TRAIN isn’t without its issues. There are so many moving pieces that a little more time to ground them better would not have gone amiss. Also, given how much of this does fit together, it feels like the aforementioned coincidence would have played better as part of the bigger picture. Finally, while we know preserving privacy is important, it’s hard to buy that Tangerine and Lemon would never call one another by their given names.

Still, BULLET TRAIN is enormously entertaining, stylish, fast-paced and even ingratiating. Stay for the mid-credits scene at the end.

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