Why does this barely-tossed salad of 25-year-old film tropes, with no invigoration or distinct vision, even exist?
Take this “review” with a granary of salt: i did not (could not) make it past the first 20 minutes, in which i saw only things i’d seen before, but done worse and without any clear reason, in ways that are all-over-the-place tonally, and presented with bewildering smugness and a lack of awareness of either itself or, it seems, any cinema that has happened since 1997.
Ladybug (Brad Pitt): his character’s assassin-fresh-from-therapy schtick might seem novel to anyone who missed Grosse Point Blank (1997), Analyse This (1999), or, y’know, The Sopranos (1999-2007). Bullet Train‘s whole white-guy-in-the-Orient-as-comedic-premise will probably appeal to anyone who hasn’t seen anything going back far, far further.
Wolf (Bad Bunny): what are his character, his story, and the way they are presented, a parody of? What is the joke, and who is it on? An under-represented minority’s only representation in yet another white-led (and already whitewashed) film in the action genre seems to make fun of… something? The melodrama of the character seems to be played for laughs – which, ok; but his wife, who seems to be an innocent civilian, is tragically killed as collateral damage – so, are we still laughing? He then seeks vengeance for her death – which, fair enough; but then he is almost immediately punished for that, by being killed and subsequently Weekend-at-Bernies‘d – so, ha ha, look at this loser? I’m sure it was hilarious to the guys working on it, but without a clear point of view, it’s simply mean-spirited punching down at a target unspecific enough to diffuse whatever “joke” remains at the end of this shamozzle. A big part of what makes Robert Rodriguez‘s Mexploitation genre is that it’s made by and for Mexicans, with an affectionate “fuck you” to white America at its heart – and Bullet Train has none of that, so it earns none of this.
Given its pedigree, Bullet Train being this uninspired and lazy quickly goes from “why?” to “sigh”.
Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson): are they competent or not? Within the story world, the fact that they have stayed alive at all, much less are established and successful, makes zero sense. Their unfunny Thomas the Tank Engine-centric cockney banter is hungover Guy Ritchie, the kind of Tarantino knock-off that would have made more sense in a late ’90s movie and even then been forgotten soon after release. The insufferable brothers in Ocean’s Eleven (2001), Casey Affleck and Scott Cann, were at least funny because we only spent seconds at a time with them before switching to any of the other, you know, nine other characters – and that, if left alone, they would almost immediately end up in jail and or dead.
Film-making: the film is lit, shot, and colour graded like a commercial for an alternate 2022 where travellers cheques are still a thing. Its style, such as it is, is garishly impersonal: somehow slick, but not stylish. Given that this is helmed by David Leitch, director of Atomic Blonde (2017) and uncredited director of the first John Wick (2014), Bullet Train being this lazy goes from “why?” to “sigh”.
With its pedigree and who it’s referencing (or ripping off), Bullet Train has less than no excuse for not providing a hook within its first minutes to keep watching. Trying to figure out why i was continuing to watch Bullet Train beyond that very quickly became exhausting, so i switched off.