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Since the 1960s, Canadian politicians, journalists and travel enthusiasts have pondered and discussed the idea of high-speed rail lines linking Edmonton to Calgary, Windsor to Quebec City, and more. Studies and reports, some with exciting names like Prairie Link, the TRAN Committee and the Lynx Proposal, have been tabled and filed and forgotten.
And I would rather watch a movie about those transportation machinations than to sit through bullet train again. A history of Canadian mass transit would likely contain more fun, humor and excitement than the lumbering, overbooked carriage that is Bullet Train.
Mind you, it wouldn’t contain Brad Pitt, who is easily the best thing in this busy movie, though his presence helps cement the feeling that this is both a Guy Ritchie knockoff (squabbling, eccentric British assassins with rough-and-tumble accents , played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry) and a Quentin Tarantino knockoff, an Asian fusion of blood and vengeance.
Pitt plays Ladybug, a Zen hitman whose handler (Sandra Bullock as a voice in his ear) wants him to collect a briefcase full of cash, currently in the possession of the aforementioned Brits, codenamed Tangerine and Lemon. But it turns out that Ladybug and the citrus brothers are merely the first in a long list of first-class baddies on the Tokyo-to-Kyoto run.
There’s the Wolf (Benito A. Martinez Ocasio), angry about the collateral damage from one of Ladybug’s old assignments. There’s the Prince (Joey King), whose schoolgirl attire belies a PhD level of evil and subterfuge. There’s Zazie Beetz as Hornet, Andrew Koji as Kimura and Michael Shannon as White Death, waiting at the end of the line.
Director David Leitch (John Wick 1, Deadpool 2), working with an adaptation of Kotaro Isaka’s 2010 novel, packs his film with violent and unlikely set pieces, including a knife fight in an inexplicably empty bar car; outside-the-train fisticuffs, complete with 300 kph winds; snakes on a train; and a fight between Pitt and Henry in the quiet car, which would have been more amusing if they’d managed to actually fight silently, instead of just turning down the volume of the film’s sound mix.
It’s all quite exhausting, though my own breaking point was when Pitt’s character suggests that misfortune follows him “like … something witty.” You want me to fill in the blanks, movie? It’s like asking passengers to punch their own tickets.
And speaking of ticket punching, bullet train‘s uncomfortable ride has the benefit of crafting its own supply of metaphors for unhappy audience members to throw back at it. Train wreck, off the rails, out of control, no brakes, I want to get off – the choice is yours.
My personal favorite is to decry the characters’ loco-motives, while taking solace in the fact that, contrary to early reports, the movie does not in fact last longer than the actual two-hour-and-15-minute ride from Tokyo to kyoto. Though at two-oh-six, I wish this train had gotten where it was going a little faster.
Bullet Train opens Aug. 5 in theatres.
2 stars out of 5