Brad Pitt leads a top-notch ensemble into some high-speed hijinks in the twist-filled action-comedy “Bullet Train.” He’s a hoot as the off-beat assassin in the black glasses and bucket hat – code name Ladybug – hired to retrieve a mysterious briefcase from the fast-moving train headed from Tokyo to Kyoto. Easy-peasy, right? Not so fast, or there would be no movie.
Things get messy quickly for the Zen-following Ladybug. “You put peace out, you get peace back,” he says. Except Ladybug is notorious for courting bad luck and leaving a bloody mess in his wake. Fate always has other plans.
Unbeknownst to him, an assortment of lowlifes, schemers and thugs are also onboard. Chief among them are the bickering British “twins,” Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the Savile Row-outfitted killer, and his blood brother, Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), an enthusiast of the children's show “Thomas the Tank Engine.” Lemon equates characters on the train to Thomas’ railyard friends (“I learned everything about people from Thomas”) and it becomes a running joke in Zak Olkewicz’s snappy script.
Also aboard this crazy train are Joey King as a pink-clad sociopath, Hiroyuki Sanada as the sage elder, Andrew Koji as a distraught father and Logan Lerman as the troublemaking son of a crime boss. Rapper Bad Bunny and Zazie Beetz are assassins named The Wolf and The Hornet, respectively, and both have scores to settle. Masi Oka is the conductor and Karen Fukuhara gets some funny bits as the concession girl. Pitt co-starred in Sandra Bullock’s “The Lost City” earlier this year, and she returns the favor, playing Ladybug’s handler, mainly appearing as the disembodied voice in his ear, guiding him through the mission.
Stuntman-turned-director David Leitch (“Deadpool 2,” “Atomic Blonde”) does his best Tarantino-meets-Ritchie impression in getting the most from an adaptation of the Kotaro Isaka book of the same name. It’s all manic energy and blood splatter revolving around the usual motivations of vengeance and hitmen beefs (He killed my wife! You destroyed my family!), with all roads leading to White Death (Michael Shannon), the most feared organized crime boss in the city. It’s not very original, and the more you think about it – a train full of hitmen trying to get off alive – the more the idea goes off the rails.
Be warned: "Bullet Train" is not for the squeamish. There’s a ridiculously high body count (17 in one expository montage), a bunch of creatively choreographed fight sequences amid the tight confines of the train and a poisonous snake on the loose. Quick! Someone call Samuel L. Jackson!
Pitt might be the main attraction, but it’s the dynamic chemistry between Taylor-Johnson and Henry that grabs hold. A couple of surprise cameos add a dash more revelry to the neon-tinged trip. Ditto for the fun needle drops of Japanese versions of pop hits such as “Stayin' Alive” and “Holding Out for a Hero.” Who’s left standing at the end of the line? You’ll have to see for yourself.
Rating: R for strong and bloody violence, pervasive language, and brief sexuality.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Sandra Bullock, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michael Shannon, Benito A Martínez Ocasio.
Director: David Leitch.
Writer: Zak Olkewicz.
Running time: 2 hours, 6 minutes.
Where to watch: In theaters Friday.
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Reach Dana Barbuto at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Movie review: It's a ride to mayhem with Brad Pitt on 'Bullet Train'