Movie Review | Leitch’s ‘Bullet Train’ is packed with action – Times-Standard

David Leitch knows how to show you a good time — at least if your idea of ​​a good time as a movie viewer involves absurdly over-the-top action sequences and complementary humor.

That’s what you get in heaping portions from the director of “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2” in his latest enjoyable effort, the stylish “Bullet Train,” which races into theaters this week.

The film stars Brad Pitt — for whom Leitch served as a stunt double on several movies, including 1999’s “Fight Club” and 2005’s “Mr. and mrs. Smith” — but also boasts a supporting ensemble that also includes Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Hiroyuki Sanada, Joey King and other recognizable faces.

As Ladybug, an assassin going through an existential crisis and regularly reciting phrases and concepts he’s absorbed in therapy, Pitt is a major reason why “Bullet Train” never wears out its welcome with its parade of violence and assassination attempts, successful and otherwise.

Speaking regularly by phone to a female handler who remains unseen until the film’s final moments, the generally unlucky Ladybug boards a train in the Shinkansen, Japan’s network of high-speed railway lines. He is there for what, theoretically, is a simple snatch-and-grab job — to quickly and quietly obtain a briefcase full of millions of dollars and get off the train — but soon finds himself ensnared in a web of assassins with varying agendas and levels of interest in said briefcase.

Among them are “twin” brothers Tangerine (Taylor-Johnson, “Godzilla”) and Lemon (Henry); The Wolf (Benito A Martínez Ocasio, aka music star Bad Bunny); and, eventually, The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), a master of disguise who favors a specific poison as a means to a particularly gruesome end.

However, the most dangerous person — at least aboard the train for most of its journey — may be The Prince (King), a young woman whose diminutive stature causes her to go largely unnoticed through much of the blood-stained proceedings.

And sure to eventually join the fray is a mysterious, powerful criminal known as The White Death. With a notable exception or two, none of them wants any of that noise.

With help from collaborators including production designer David Scheunemann (“Atomic Blonde”), editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir (“Atomic Blonde”), director of photography Jonathan Sela (“The Lost City”) and music supervisor Season Kent (“Superman & Lois”) , Leitch has cooked up a dish full of flavor.

Much of the seasoning comes from its Japanese setting, but know that the film — adapted by Zak Olkewicz (“Fear Street: Part Two – 1978”) from a novel by Kotaro Isaka — has received criticism for casting white actors as characters who in the book are Japanese. Isaka has defended the charges of whitewashing by saying the characters are “ethnically malleable.”

Regardless, the characters are fun, especially Ladybug, whom Pitt infuses with equal parts mellowness and worry, which go nicely with the character’s working-on-himself wisdom.

“Let this be a lesson in the toxicity of anger,” he says after something unfortunate befalls a foe aboard the train.

The next-best character is Henry’s Lemon, who credits his gift for judging others to his time with the children’s entertainment staple Thomas the Tank Engine. The constant referencing of Thomas frustrates Tangerine, but he admits Lemon is rarely wrong when he negatively labels someone a “diesel.” Henry — who, like the gifted Beetz, is a cast member of the terrific FX series “Atlanta — gives a memorable performance.

“Bullet Train” also benefits from King, best known for “The Kissing Booth” and the star of the recent Hulu movie “The Princess,” who is delightfully deceitful as The Prince.

The real star, though, is the action, hardly a surprise given Leitch’s background in fight choreography and stunt coordination, as well as directorial credits that also include “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” and “John Wick,” which he co -directed.

Here, he conceives some inventive sequences aboard — and outside — the fast-moving train that are almost entirely unconcerned with realism. He does use a lot of slow-motion, though, and you sometimes wish this movie would live up to the speed its title connotes.

And even though multiple characters spend their last moments of life on the train, the stakes never feel very high. Maybe just a bit more realism would have helped the affair. Then again, perhaps not — providing laughs clearly is the major goal here, one that is met.

Ultimately, “Bullet Train” is meant to be big slice of mindless escapism, and it succeeds at that. Before the train literally runs off the tracks, we get everything from a poisonous snake to an elaborate modern toilet that befuddles Ladybug.

Refreshingly, all its myriad moving pieces fit together rather nicely, which you’d guess is a credit to Isaka — even if it’s hard to imagine this story told in book form.

“Bullet Train” is rated R for strong and bloody violence, pervasive language, and brief sexuality. Runtime: 2 hours, 6 minutes.

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