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Brad Pitt’s action epic never leaves the station – The Irish Times


Bullet Train

Director: David Leitch

Cert: 16

Starring: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, Sandra Bullock

Running Time: 2 hrs 06 mins

In the week that the best action film of the year goes to Disney+ — that’s Prey, if you were wondering — we should rejoice that Sony has allowed a high-budget thriller derived from no existing franchises into actual cinemas with walls and roofs. More than that. It stars one of the world’s nine remaining movie stars, offers supporting roles to half a dozen first-class supporting stalwarts, sneaks in surprise cameos from at least three more genuine players and ends with a conflagration on the scale of Vesuvius.

If only the darn thing were a little better. Adapted from a Japanese book concerning Japanese people by Kōtarō Isaka (the producers have already got in trouble for whitewashed casting), Bullet Train stars Brad Pitt as an assassin dispatched onto the eponymous mass transport system and instructed to retrieve a Macguffin in an actual, industry-standard briefcase. The train turns out to be packed with a huddle of competing villains that includes Brian Tyree Henry, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Andrew Koji, Joey King and Zazie Beetz. The film doesn’t overdo its startled western gaze, but Japanese viewers may groan a little at attacks by characters dressed as huge-eyed manga characters and a few too many sub-Confucian, semi-comic aphorisms.

The plot is a tagliatelle of insubstantiality. Just assume that everyone is set to double-cross everyone else. The dialogue, alas, dwells far too much in the pop-culture miasma that may be Quentin Tarantino’s most regrettable gift to the culture. Nowhere is this quite so irritating than in Henry’s endless monologues — there in the Japanese source, astonishingly — on the lessons to be drawn from Thomas the Tank Engine.

Director David Leitch has already shown a gift for cartoonish action in the John Wick films and in Atomic Blonde, but here his decision to go full Tom & Jerry detaches even the slimmest tendril of attachment to reality. When, towards the close, the star is suspended in mid-leap, one half-expects, in imitation of a famous Wile E Coyote gag, to see the Latin legend “Pittius Durabalus” displayed at the bottom of the screen (apologies for the cartoon equivalent of a mixed metaphor). He gives it his all, but, with material this thin, he can do little but be himself. Henry makes the most of his comic English geezer. Also managing an excellent old-world accent, Joey King steals every scene as a killer posing as a schoolgirl.

Sadly, the thing is so chaotically exhausting it proves beyond the talented actors’ saving. It plays like the last 20 minutes of a much-better action film stretched out to the length of a biblical epic.

Well, at least it’s in cinemas. Maybe you should go and see it anyway.

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