REVIEW: Bullet Train feels like Tarantino directing a '90s action comedy
Brad Pitt headlines the all-star blockbuster, which arrives in Irish cinemas this week.
Remember action movies in the 1990s? When the concept and the star was enough to get you into the cinema? When it didn't need to be a part of a wider cinematic universe, just its own big mad action thing filled with explosions and funny one-liners and hyper-violence and performances ramped up to 11?
Con Air. Point Break. Total Recall. Face/Off. Speed. Leon. True Lies. Sudden Death. Ronin. The Matrix.
Also in the '90s, we got the rise (and rise) of Tarantino who, in that decade alone, had given us Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. However, Tarantino also did uncredited additional writing on Crimson Tide and The Rock, and somewhere out there in the multiverse, there is a Tarantino who didn't go the route we know he took, and maybe instead focused all of his talents on the big mad action things.
Bullet Train is essentially the answer to that question: What if Tarantino directed a '90s action movie? And the answer is... it would be pretty good. Not great, but pretty good.
Brad Pitt is a trained killer code-named Ladybug who has been assigned a seemingly very easy mission by his handler (Sandra Bullock) following some time off after his last mission went wrong in every way possible. All he has to do is board the titular mode of transport, heading from Tokyo to Kyoto, grab a specific briefcase, and get off at the next stop. Easy-peasy.
Except that there are a multitude of other criminals already on board the train, with converging and conflicting plans of action: Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) are bringing The Son (Logan Lerman) safely back to his terrifying crime leader The White Death (Michael Shannon); The Prince (Joey King) has coerced grieving father Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji) to travel with her in order to get revenge on a family member; and there is also Mexican assassin The Wolf (Bad Bunny) and poisoning expert Hornet (Zazie Beetz) to contend with. Oh, and there is a very dangerous snake also on the loose, having been accidentally freed from its cage...
As you can probably tell from the names - and the way they're introduced on-screen with their own title card and history-filled flashback - it all feels very Kill Bill. It helps that director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Hobbs & Shaw) leans into the Tarantino'y aspects, giving a very adult-aimed action movie, filled with bloody kills and very bad language.
That is matched with some spectacular action sequences, with Leitch's own past as Brad Pitt's stunt double meaning he knows that the physicality of the fights and shoot-outs is what wins audiences over, see also: John Wick, another movie that Leitch directed.
If there is a problem with Bullet Train, it is that it feels all too aware of its own coolness. At times it tries so hard to be the Coolest Movie Ever TM that it wraps right around to feeling a little bit cringe'y. Pitt's character wanting to find and maintain inner peace is funny at the beginning, but there is a certain point - maybe right around the time the train starts to literally explode - that it might be time to ditch the wink-wink jokey-jokey vibe and just let the action do the talking – see also Deadpool 2, another movie that Leitch directed.
Tarantino has always known where to draw the line when it comes to dropping the too-cool-for-school schtick, to give the movie's own drama room to breathe, and while it isn't enough to stop this fun train entirely, it can feel like it is slowing down slightly in-between the fun stuff.
That being said, should Leitch and Pitt want to return for Bullet Plane or Bullet Boat or Bullet Tuk-Tuk, we're already fully onboard.
Bullet Train arrives in Irish cinemas on Wednesday, 3 August.
Clip via Sony Pictures Ireland