Brad Pitt is the zany, condemned assassin named Ladybug, in an action adventure called “Bullet Train,” because, well, he flits aboard this sleek and seething Kyoto-bound train like a explosive projectile.
The film plays like an anime cartoon on steroids, and it’s swift, swerving but simplistic. Like the “Fast and Furious” collection of racing and crashing cars, it’s non-stop collisions and confrontations.
A ”Murder on the Orient Express” this ain’t. And because of the collateral damage of this elitist and respected train, you’d think that the Japanese would be thumbs down on this unabashedly chaotic yet charismatic pursuit of good over evil, traversing green-screened land and cityscapes in a Nippon tale that is loaded with music (from “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” to Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” rendered in Japanese for incidental mood shifts).
It’s a trove of discovery, fueled with CGI artistry, that converts the real-life Shinkansen Japanese train (though not identified as Japan’s rail wonder) as it roars and soars into pulp fiction territory of sorts, with unspoken tributes to Quentin Tarantino and his style of no-goods with plenty of kicks, blasts, blood and mayhem, in what would clearly be dubbed black comedy.
This jaunt involves a desired briefcase, loaded with moolah, and it seems like everyone’s trying to grab it.
Ladybug gets hurled into this rampant exchange of chases, knifings, and fisticuffs, but he’s actually a substitute assassin to recover this stash. He’s fresh from anger management sessions, so he doesn’t board the train with a gun, and thus is clueless on what lies ahead on the tracks.
A British duo, cleverly named Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), are the hustlers with muscles and weapons. No, they don’t make lemonade, but since one of these assassins on the hunt – Lemon – is addicted to the kid-time “Thomas the Talking Engine” train and book, you know you’re in fairytale land. Especially when he issues stickers of Thomas’ train gang.
However, a train sticker has relevance in the unreeling tale: it decorates the handles of the coveted silver suitcase, a giveaway if you’re hunting for clues. Occasional pauses in the story involve Japanese kanji along with English subtitles, perhaps to remind the spectator of the Japanese roots of this tale, adapted from Kōtarō Isaka’s 2010 novel, though devoid of all the motion and commotion depicted here.
Like “Trainspotting, ” odd people do mad things as the world swooshes by. There are a few cameos, bringing needed giggles to film’s tension. Channing Tatum, for instance, is an off-center, playful commuter with a hilarious sexual overtone. Ryan Reynolds is aboard, too, mostly since his earlier “Deadpool 2” film inked Pitt to do a cameo appearance, so this moment was payback of sorts. Both Tatum and Reynolds adopt the right look and appetite for their brief camera time.
Then there’s Sandra Bullock, who comes late to the party; she’s not ever aboard the train but arrives in her own choo-choo of sorts, conveniently swooshing her new car amid the crashing and colliding train cars, projecting a cool, controlled Maria Beetle, the hitherto unidentified handler of Pitt’s Ladybug dude. Doesn’t make much sense, but Beetle is the figure and focus of the Japanese author’s inspirational book, which was bravely entitled “Bullet Train.”
Masi Oki, whom islanders may recall as the medical examiner in the Alex O’Loughlin reboot of “Hawaii Five-O,” makes the best of his recurring conductor scenes,
The physicality and violence in the film are not easy to endure, because it’s hard to applaud glistening bloodshed, so perhaps this might have been a better vehicle as an animated film, where the gushing would be less severe or offensive.
But there’s an underlying message of fate, and how Ladybug has to deal with it, lacking good karma. Suddenly, this humane sentiment somehow nullifies and excuses the punches and punctures of the dueling assassins.
The maddening and manic cadence is kinda like the gore and gritty scenes in the sci-hit earlier this year entitled “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a volley of assaults and energy that put Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis in blockbuster heaven earlier this year. And no train, or replica, was ruined in that one, which was a surprise black comedy, too. …
Broadway grosses, week ending Aug. 7
So it was musical chairs on the Broadway front last week, with Hugh Jackman’s still the “Music Man” mogul, pulling in $2.825 million, shy of his usual $3 million sum, and “The Lion King” overtaking:”Hamilton,” with tallies of $2.222 million and “$2.219 million, respectively, in the nip-and-tuck contest for No. 2 and No. 3 in the ranking.
The figures, courtesy The Broadway League:
And that’s Show Biz. …