Bullet Train

I honestly try to catch big budget movies that are not just sequels or entries in massive franchises (e.g., Marvel, Star Wars). I feel it's important to support "original" blockbusters in an era when such are few and far between. But it's frustrating that so many of them are so darn stupid. Case in point: Bullet Train.

Based on a novel by Japanese author Isaka Kotaro, Bullet Train retains much of his plot and setting while turning most of his Japanese characters into a multiethnic and decidedly motley crew. The plot concerns a gaggle of assassins and criminals from around the world who all wind up on the same weirdly depopulated Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto. From the start, we sense that there must be a connection between these jokers, although the plot takes its time to get there.

Brad Pitt stars as "Ladybug", a bro-ish bagman whose recent therapy sessions have left him chatty and introspective. Tasked with stealing a money-filled briefcase off the train, his antagonists include a pair of Cockney hitmen (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Bryan Tyree Henry play "Tangerine" and "Lemon", respectively), a girlish Brit (Joey King) whose "hidden" evil side is tipped off early, and several others, including a smattering of surprise celebrity cameos. (I knew next to nothing going into this film, which made it slightly more enjoyable.)

What we wind up with is a subpar Tarantino ripoff with "funny" dialogue provided by young screenwriter Zak Olkewicz and action-filled but suspense-free direction by ex-stunt coordinator David Leitch. The latter's fight sequences in Deadpool 2 and Atomic Blonde were much better staged than those in Bullet Train. I can't put my finger on why. Maybe this movie's pure silliness just renders its action scenes less exciting.

I didn't despise Bullet Train: it's simple-minded escapist summer fare and its bombastic violence will likely gain a cult audience of dudes. But what maddens me is that the filmmakers could have easily told this same story, absurd as it is, with sharper dialogue and more suspense. The whole thing just feels dumbed down. It's not one for the ages.