An assassin, code name Ladybug, has a new assignment.
He’s to board a train in Tokyo, retrieve a briefcase from whoever has possession of it, and make his escape.
Instead, Ladybug discovers that the train is full of killers who are all either after the briefcase, out to kill someone, or both.
That’s the setup in “Bullet Train” (R, 126 minutes, in theaters), a stylish, fast-moving comic thriller that seems like it could have been made by Quentin Tarantino (think the “Kill Bill” movies) or Guy Ritchie (think “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”).
Instead, David Leitch (“Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2”) directed, with Brad Pitt starring as Ladybug.
Wearing a bucket hat that makes him look more like a tourist than a professional killer, Ladybug has gone through a transformation, or at least a change in attitude. He’s trying to eliminate anger in his life, to reason with enemies and find common ground. These are normally positive goals, but, as his handler, Maria (Sandra Bullock), points out, they’re not exactly conducive to success in his line of work. She implores him to take a gun on his assignment, but Ladybug refuses.
Ladybug’s new approach is quickly challenged as he tangles on the speeding train with one fellow assassin after another. Among them are sibling partners Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry); the enigmatic Prince (Joey King), who uses her schoolgirl appearance to deadly effect; and others named Kimura (Andrew Koji), Wolf (Bad Bunny, and, yes, he howls) and the Hornet (Zazie Beetz). And it doesn’t end there.
The plot is intentionally convoluted (Zak Olkewicz, working from a novel by Kotaro Isaka, wrote the screenplay) and the frenetic action intentionally absurd.
It’s all enjoyable enough, but the characters are what make “Bullet Train” fun. Standouts are Pitt’s Ladybug (trying so hard, without much success, at conflict resolution), and the bickering but loving sibs Tangerine (the most like one of Guy Ritchie’s badass British mobsters) and Lemon (a “Thomas the Tank Engine” aficionado). *** (out of four)
Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.
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