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Comical killers ride ‘Bullet Train’; Play It Again, Tim

Written by Tim Miller

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.

Simple, right?

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”).

Brad Pitt plays Ladybug in “Bullet Train.” (Sony Pictures photos)

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.

Siblings Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry, left) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) are among the assassins in “Bullet Train.”

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

Play It Again, Tim

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.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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