Bullet Train (2022) Review

Just like how Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron became the main selling points in their physically-demanding roles in their respective John Wick and Atomic Blonde movies, director David Leitch made Brad Pitt the centre of attention in Bullet Train.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the 58-year-old (!) Hollywood heartthrob plays an action role, given his past experience in movies like Mr and Mrs Smith back in 2005. And despite his age, Pitt reportedly underwent intensive training and even did “95% of his physical stunts”, according to the movie’s second-unit director and stunt coordinator Greg Rementer. If you are not familiar with the latter name, he was previously responsible for the second-unit direction in Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw and Nobody.

Before I get to the review, here’s the synopsis for Bullet Train: Based on Kotaro Isaka’s 2010 novel of the same name (originally titled Maria Bettle in Japanese), the movie boasts a simple but cool premise. A reformed assassin codenamed Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is aboard a high-speed train for a supposedly simple job. But the job gradually turns out to be an elaborate mess when he finds himself facing a bunch of hitmen throughout the ride. This includes dealing with a pair of British assassins Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a vengeful Mexican assassin nicknamed The Wolf (Benito A Martinez Ocasio) and Hornet (Zazie Beetz), just to name a few.

A scene from "Bullet Train" (2022)

When I first heard about Bullet Train and its Die Hard-like concept that takes place within the confines of a train, I didn’t expect the movie to be an action comedy but more of a straight-up, no-nonsense John Wick style. Besides, the last time David Leitch attempted the action-comedy route in Deadpool 2 and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, the results were largely a mixed bag.

Well, I hate to say this but David Leitch and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz, who previously served as the co-writer in last year’s Fear Street: Part Two – 1978, botches the potentially fun premise into a self-indulgent wannabe that tries so hard to ape Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie’s respectively distinct filmmaking style. In other words, the movie wants to be hip and stylish with all the barrage of so-called quippy monologues and rapid-fire dialogues.

But directing a talky action-comedy is far from Leitch’s forte and it shows, with most of them sound desperately unfunny. For instance, Lemon loves to talk about life lessons referenced from Thomas the Tank Engine and not once the dialogues sing. Leitch also tries to keep his movie busy with plenty of flashbacks, subplots and even surprise cameo appearances. And yet, it just drags and drags like God-knows-how-long because I swear the 126-minute running time feels a lot longer than it should be. If only Leitch chose to keep his movie tight and lean without all the unnecessary fats, Bullet Train would have been an exhilarating ride.

Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock in "Bullet Train" (2022)

There are a few redeeming factors, though. Leitch knows best when comes to action set-pieces and here, they deliver in terms of its overall choreography. There’s an impressively-staged fight sequence between Ladybug and The Wolf using a briefcase and a knife. At one point, Leitch pays homage to Jackie Chan in a CZ12-style tussle between Ladybug and Lemon in a cramped space (in this case, the train seats) that blends physical comedy. He doesn’t shy away from excessive gore and violence too, where you get a lot of stabbings, gunshots and more. The only exception here is the wildly over-the-top finale involving the massive train collision sequence, where Leitch goes full-on CGI with all the digital fakery and sloppy effects.

Performances-wise, Brad Pitt’s goofy charm has his few moments but too bad his character is largely undermined by Leitch’s haphazard direction and Olkewicz’s heavy-handed screenplay. Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson act as if they are trying hard to impress Guy Ritchie if he ever catches (no pun intended) the movie so he would consider casting them in his next movie.

The rest of the supporting actors are just as forgettable including Joey King as the schoolgirl-like assassin Prince and Michael Shannon, who shows up later in the movie as one of the antagonists. The movie also featured Sandra Bullock as Ladybug’s handler and I was kind of hoping for the same winning chemistry they previously shared, albeit briefly in The Lost City. Unfortunately, Sandra Bullock spends the majority of her time in a series of phone conversations offscreen with Brad Pitt.

Overall, Bullet Train is more of a bumpy ride that goes on too long for its own good. And no matter how hard Leitch ventures out of his comfort zone and tries something different for a change, he isn’t much of a versatile filmmaker after all. Perhaps having someone more qualified to direct the talky parts of the movie (imagine if Quentin Tarantino helms an action comedy) while Leitch could serve as a co-director for all the action set-pieces.

Leave a Reply