‘Bullet Train’ Movie Review: Brad Pitt Action Movie Channels Lesser Quentin Tarantino

Bullet Train isn’t the Quentin Tarantino movie that it thinks it is. Director David Leitch proved that he knows action and humor across Deadpool 2, John Wick, and Atomic Blonde. He once again delivers on the sporadic hyper-violent action in Bullet Train, but it’s an overlong action flick that doesn’t have much to hold itself together.

'Bullet Train' 2.0 star rating graphic

‘Bullet Train’ brings an array of assassins aboard

'Bullet Train' Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Tangerine and Brad Pitt as Ladybug fighting in front of a collection of the train snack counter
L-R: ‘Bullet Train’ Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Tangerine and Brad Pitt as Ladybug | Scott Garfield/Sony Pictures

Ladybug (Brad Pitt) wants to pursue a life away from missions, but his handler, Maria (Sandra Bullock), brings him back into the fold for an important mission. He must get on a train to retrieve a mysterious brief case with unknown contents inside. However, Ladybug soon discovers that he isn’t the only one onboard with an important assignment, but they couldn’t possibly be more unlucky than him.

Bullet Train finds five assassins with something in common that could result in their death. They will have to fight for their survival in an adventure that also has potentially high rewards. They continue to ride the train heading from Tokyo to Kyoto, as their competing objectives clash.

Director David Leitch digs into family, fate, and luck

Bullet Train finds Ladybug come into contact with The Prince (Joey King), Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), and Yuichi Kumura (Andrew Koji). They each have various dynamics and histories that impact how they conduct business on the train. Themes of luck, family, and fate run through the veins of their narratives. As a result, they must face some of their darkest fears personified through one another.

The world’s most dangerous criminal organization is run by The White Death (Michael Shannon), who operates in the shadows. All of the assassins know who he is and fear both his power and his influence. Bullet Train isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty, showing the true power of these characters at every turn. They each have different strengths, but they all point toward a particularly brutal blood bath.

Screenwriter Zak Olkewicz presents a non-linear narrative that jumps around in time. It’s occasionally utilized as a plot device, but it’s also used as a comedic gag. Ladybug is introduced as the story’s protagonist, but The Prince understandably wrestles with the idea of who exactly is in whose story. Whose world are they living in? Bullet Train finds them sharing the silver screen in a way that gives the majority of characters defining moments, even if not much of it necessarily lands.

‘Bullet Train is a disappointing Quentin Tarantino wannabe

'Bullet Train' Joey King as The Prince reading a book, while wearing pink in a train seat
Joey King as The Prince | Scott Garfield

Bullet Train is at its best when it simply provides its the cast with the space to be charming, even if the characters themselves don’t offer much. Pitt plays a goofy, unlucky character with an abundance of charisma who has undeniable on-screen chemistry with Henry. However, Henry’s dynamic with Taylor-Johnson is surprisingly engaging. For some, this will be worth the price of admission.

Leitch has a clear understanding of the action genre, and it shows in his previous projects. Bullet Train has a couple of neat fight sequences, but they aren’t up to par with his previous dips into the genre. When there aren’t assassins fighting on-screen, there isn’t enough going on with these characters to get the audience invested in what they have to say.

This action thriller certainly has no right being over two hours long, creating some substantial pacing problems. That isn’t to say that there isn’t entertainment value here because there is. However, it isn’t enough to outweigh the film’s inability to break through Asian stereotypes and paper-thin characters. Bullet Train draws on major Tarantino influences with plenty of violence and references but lacks his understanding of storytelling and smart dialogue. The final product is loud and tiresome.

Bullet Train rides into theaters on Aug. 5.

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