In a world filled with uninspired blockbusters capitalizing on cheap thrills and movie-star recognizability, it’s nice to see someone at least attempt a semi-original idea with all the backing and gusto of the usual suspects. Bullet Train is successful as a big, loud, vulgar action flick that doesn’t ask for too much in return. It has a certain sheen, a certain approachability that makes it easy to enjoy. However, there are some elements it borrows from its contemporaries that hinders it in my opinion, as well as attempting to borrow from films they may have had a bit more thought put into them.
The film features a colorful ensemble of murderers, assassins and ruffeons that are certainly the highlight of the film. Brad Pitt’s Ladybug, named ironically because he’s super-unlucky, is just trying to have a positive outlook on life while the entire world seems dead set on killing him. I mean, it’s Brad Pitt. His charm is pretty much all you ever need from him. Then there’s the mercenary brothers Tangerine and Lemon, portrayed by Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry respectively, whose bickering bond is a tad touching and provides a good amount of laughs. Tangerine is the short-tempered de facto-leader while Lemon is good reader of people, which he attributes to his many hours of watching Thomas the Tank Engine. Buckle up too, cuz they mention Thomas a lot. Like, a lot alot. I was even pleasantly happy with performances from Joey King and Bad Bunny, two actors I never really had strong opinions on. The performances are definitely solid, even though the words they’re given aren’t always…funny.
Man, the comedy here is veeeery hit or miss, especially near the beginning. Occasionally we get some genuinely funny lines that are made even funnier thanks to some clever editing or camerawork, but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a lot of jokes or lines that fall completely flat. The writing is done in such a fast paced, smarmy way akin to Guy Ritchie, Shane Black or Edgar Wright, often not managing to be as whip smart, just kind of on the same tempo.
The action can go either way as well, with some pretty fun choreographed scenes that make great use of anything and everything in the vicinity. As the film progresses, a bit more special effects and green screen begin to enter the fray, and it does dampen some of these fight scenes with their obvious greenscreen, under-polished effects and uneven lighting. The pacing at least manages to be as fast as the titular locomotive for the most part, although the story sometimes gets slowed down due to overly long flashbacks and exposition dumps. Bad Bunny’s character, The Wolf, is cool, but I don’t necessarily think we need a flashback detailing his entire life story. Aside from that though, the pacing does manage to be relatively fast, accompanying a surprisingly tight and intricate story with a lot of twists and turns and whodunnits. The film even kind of has a message about how we handle bad luck in our lives. And really, that’s enough.
I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would despite its shortcomings. The neon Tokyo aesthetic is certainly enticing, and its hard to turn away from such a star-studded cast, with a few celebrity cameos I actually didn’t hate. It’s certainly still an example of Hollywood commercialism, but sometimes we can have a little fun with it.
I love it when movies make it easy for me and make it apparent what kind of ingredients I’m going to be using for my drink. However, this may be a first where there’s characters actually named after ingredients. Bullet Train is full of colorful characters, but perhaps none more entertaining than the mercenary brothers code-named Tangerine and Lemon. Two flavors that naturally pair well together, which I’m also going to be pairing with a bit of subtle richness from some plum brandy. There’s a whole metaphor about plums and a farmer that I don’t really remember the point of, because all I heard was “Hey! Another ingredient!”. To tie it into the setting, I’ve opted to use Japanese whiskey as the base. The cocktail is balanced nicely with a pleasant fruit flavor at the front, followed by a bit of sourness and bitterness from back, giving it a noticeable bite akin to the drink’s namesake, the Boomslang. It’s a highly venomous snake that plays a pivotal role in the story when it becomes loose on the train. Don’t tell Sam Jackson.
- 1.5oz Japanese whiskey
- 1oz plum brandy
- 1oz tangerine juice
- 1/2oz lemon juice
- 2 dashes angostura bitters
- Garnish: lemon twist
- Add ingredients to a shaker and shake with ice.
- Double strain into a coup glass.
- Garnish with lemon twist.