‘Bullet Train’ Features Cartoonish Violence And A Confusing Plot


New film Bullet Train reminds me of a old Road Runner cartoon. The star keeps running while his nemesis Wile E. Coyote and everything else blow up around him in a nihilistic frenzy. There is a lot of weird, cartoonish violence in this movie, but if you want character development, this is not where you want to go.

Director David Leitch sets up a simple situation. A tired, worn-out agent code-named Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is assigned by his handler Maria Beetle (Sandra Bullock, who only shows up for a few minutes at end of the film) to pick up a metal briefcase on a bullet train going from Tokyo to Kyoto. Since the whole thing takes place in Japan, a Japanese agent would almost certainly do a better job, but, surprisingly, there are not many Japanese appearing in the film.

Ladybug is about one step from getting out of the whole business. He spends most of the film quoting his therapist about the meaning of life. But the mission should be “easy-peasy.” Walk on the train, find the bag, and get off at the next stop. Of course, that doesn’t happen.

It seems just about every secret agent on the planet is riding the train with him, and each seems to have their own agenda. The ones we see most often, besides our hero, are a British duo, twins coded as Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Bryan Tyree Henry). And, yes, one is white and one is black, but they are twins. And they care about each other like brothers, even though they bicker constantly. While amusing, they are also expert, vicious killers who are escorting the son of a major crime lord. Another killer on the train is Wolf (Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny), who wants revenge for the murder of his wife and is certain that Ladybug is to blame. Also on the train is Hornet (Zazie Beetz), who actually did the killing. And we have the Father (Andrew Koji), who is a puppet controlled by someone who threw his young son off a roof and now controls the boy’s fate. His father, great Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada, makes an appearance halfway through so he can philosophize with Ladybug.

There is also someone in a weird mascot costume and a train conductor focused solely on whether or not Ladybug has a ticket. Meanwhile, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world manages to get out of its carrying case. Eventually, even White Death (Michael Shannon), the most feared crime boss, comes aboard, just before the train and story go wildly off the tracks.

Women do not seem to play a major role at all. Beetz is on screen for not much more than a minute. Joey King, as the Prince, seems a scared young woman but is clearly not. She provides quite a lot of the plot, even while seeming one-note until the end.

The violence is cartoonish, well-choreographed and often unique. People are killed by metal valises, knives, poison and bottles of water. And there’s a very modern Japanese toilet that plays an important role. There are a few impossible stunts, but then again, this is a movie.

Pitts is amusing and charismatic, exactly what is required for the part. There is no real growth, no change, but he is the main constant, the eye of the hurricane. Henry and Taylor-Johnson are much more the heart of the film, but are just too cartoonish for us to focus on. Koji might have become the moral center of the film, but he just does too little. He is a prototypical victim. Sanada provides at least some center as he explains a lot of the action and is a counterweight to Shannon, who provides the rest of the story. But we only find out what the whole movie is about minutes before the end.

Still, despite an almost useless script by Zak Olkewicz, this is an amusing ride. Following what has become a common tradition, all sorts of horrible actions are followed by brief bits of humor, as a way of giving us a brief breathing spell. But the action keeps coming, even through the extra scene done through the final credits.

It is a fun ride if you want some mindless entertainment. Not a great movie, not really a truly good one. But it will keep you going for its full two hours.