“Bullet Train” moves at an appropriate brisk pace, with Brad Pitt leading a large cast. However, the fast-paced action is offset by a smart-alecky tone that is both uneven and occasionally too cute for its own good, as well as a mashup of styles – from the music to the visuals – that comes across as a Quentin Tarantino want tobe, with a dash of “Deadpool” thrown in for good measure.
That latter influence should come as no surprise given that director David Leitch oversaw the “Deadpool” sequel as well as the “John Wick” and “Fast & Furious” franchises. Pitt’s presence adds to the Tarantino echoes, as he has shown off his playfully macho side in Tarantino’s films, most recently winning an Oscar for “Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood.”
The story, however, which screenwriter Zak Olkewicz adapted from a Japanese novel, lacks enough fuel to sustain that tone on a consistent basis. Even extensive flashbacks to break up the narrative’s confined space are insufficient to add intrigue to the machinations of these strangers on a train.
Pitt’s bad-luck hitman (codenamed Ladybug) joins the ongoing story by boarding a bullet train in Japan with orders to acquire a briefcase full of cash. Unfortunately, he isn’t the only skilled assassin on board, with each pursuing different marching orders, confusion over who’s pulling the strings, and plenty of miscommunication along the way.
Others have more personal motives than Pitt’s world-weary character, who simply wants to complete the assignment and disembark. The various factions include a mysterious young woman (Joey King), a squabbling pair of operatives dubbed “twins” (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry), and a vengeful killer played by Benito A. Martnez Ocasio, a.k.a. Bad Bunny.
That barely scratches the surface of the cast, which includes cameos clearly intended to provide the audience with small rewards. However, some more recognizable faces appear so briefly that they are barely discernible.
The claustrophobic setting actually benefits the fight scenes, which are brutal, bloody, and frequently played for laughs. Indeed, several replicate the interrupted showdown in “Kill Bill,” including the amusing quandary of how to try to kill someone without violating the rules of the train’s “quiet car.”
But, for the most part, “Bullet Train” highlights the difficulties in attempting to imbue this type of film with the qualities of a live-action cartoon, even if the goal is two hours of unpretentious escapism.
This isn’t another sequel, which in this genre is almost always cause for celebration; however, the film doesn’t feel remotely original. Perhaps this is why, despite the fact that the resulting ride isn’t without thrills, it’s difficult to recommend catching this “Train.”