STREAMING: FAST TRAIN TO NOWHERE – Journal
At the very end of Bullet Train, a movie about a bullet train full of assassins that will eventually, and inevitably, topple over and crash into buildings, we see a spectacular wreck that crushes cabins, tears passenger cars apart, travelers and sends commuters flying through the air.
Ladybug (Brad Pitt), a non-violent assassin who dislikes guns (he takes them away from bad guys every chance he gets).
The shipwreck at the end is the literal manifestation and summary of Ladybug’s journey, from the moment he boarded the high-speed train. It’s a shipwreck for everyone, including the public, for whom the film derails after 15 minutes (Bullet Train has a duration of 126 minutes).
Brad Pitt is a hoot, and the rest of the cast is pretty much fine. The list includes Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, Zazie Beetz, Joey King, stragglers Michael Shannon and Sandra Bullock, and almost turns from Logan Lerman, Karen Fukuhara, Masi Oka and Channing Tatum. However, the one actor who steals the movie is Ryan Reynolds as the assassin Carver, whose unexpected three-second cameo trumps everyone.
Bullet Train may become cult sooner rather than later, due to its disparate cast of unique characters, but it’s a movie wreck
The film is an adaptation of Kōtarō Isaka’s Japanese novel, Maria Beetle, whose English adaptation was simplified with the title Bullet Train. I don’t know the level of oversimplification to which the film adaptation stoops, as I have yet to open the pages of the book and delve into the discrepancies. Isaka says in a statement that the cast was “ethnically malleable” (the characters in the original were Japanese, unsurprisingly).
Malleable might be the right word here, as the film has the unmistakable flexibility of chewing gum.
The chewing-gum allegory seems to fit Bullet Train quite easily. Film is designed to be chewed up (i.e. enjoyed), blown in a bubble a few dozen times (eg: the action sequences) and spat out (i.e. forgotten), in hoping that some of its creators’ creative choices might stick to fandom shoes.
I have no doubt that Bullet Train will get its cult following sooner rather than later purely because of its disparate set of unique characters.
Once you weed out the quirky designs that make these characters colorful, and maybe not so menacing – they’re all bad guys, made to look like good guys – we realize we’re actually seeing uninteresting materializations of the designs anime that seem to have come to life in the pages of a new comic book society that wants a set of flamboyant, stereotypical, superficial personalities to spread their spin-off stories (the frequency of these books, characters, and stories is mind-boggling).
Zak Olkewicz’s screenplay is a poorly written hack of Tarantino’s films – namely Kill Bill – which, in turn, are often an homage to Japanese cinema and storytelling culture.
Olkewicz sandwiches long stretches of dialogue between action sequences. The conversations – and the hiatuses in the past that add stories – barely pique interest. The acting of Pitt and Taylor-Johnson, who seem to be having the time of their lives playing goofy characters, can only do so much to elevate a movie that was supposed to be mindless entertainment.
Director David Leitch, an esteemed stunt choreographer who earned his directing degree with John Wick (which he co-directed), Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2 and Hobbs and Shaw, brings his particularly uninteresting choreography from camera and actors at the show. Between Olkewicz and Leitch, I had a hard time deciding who to blame more for the exposed prank.
While the cliche can help set the right stakes for telling an engaging story, employing just sticking to it is a disservice to the story.
The neon, revenge, clean, minimal, technical Japanese vibe that Kate and Bullet Train exploit only lead to the obvious conclusion: Hollywood is generally inept when it comes to marrying Japanese aesthetics to the blockbuster model. American.
Leave that job to Luc Bessons (The Professional, Wasabi) or the Ridley Scotts of yesteryear (Blade Runner, Black Rain). The profession is moving away from today’s filmmakers… at the speed of the Japanese high-speed train.
Bullet Train, currently playing on cinema screens, is published by Universal. It’s Rated R for Action, Beheadings, and Gallons of Germinated Blood
Posted in Dawn, ICON, August 14, 2022