If the films of Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino had a love child it would probably be something a bit like Bullet Train; it’s a bit of a mongrel that attempts to combine the laddishness of the former’s early efforts and the creative madcap violence of the latter’s best-regarded films. That it generally fails to hit its targets is almost inevitable but for all its faults and its earnestness to please it’s a rompingly enjoyable affair that, inevitably and appropriately, comes off the rails in a final act that topples into the absurd.
David (Deadpool 2) Leitch’s film, based on a novel by Kotaro Isaka, toplines Brad Pitt as 'Ladybug', a professional assassin tasked by his off-screen handler Maria (she finally appears at the very end of the film) to collect a briefcase from a high-speed bullet train hurtling across Japan. But there are several other assassins also on board the train including unlikely hitmen brothers Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson mockneying outrageously) and Thomas the Tank Engine obsessed Lemon (Bryan Tyree Henry), 'The Prince' (Joey King) who lures fellow-assassin Yuichi Kimura (Andre Koki), hungry for vengeance after his son is thrown from the top of a building, onto the train and ‘The Wolf’ (Benito A. Martinez Ocasio) whose wife and associates were poisoned at his own wedding. Added to the mix are a number of other random trained killers and a lethally poisonous snake and the result is a high-energy, non-stop cocktail of knowing comedy, extreme violence and some occasionally iffy CGI.
Taken on its own singular terms Bullet Train is often good fun but there’s a sense of smugness about it, as if the audience is being invited to share in a private joke being told by the filmmakers, that makes it a slightly wearying experience at times. The Ritchie-lite geezerness doesn’t always work and there’s really only one Tarantino and well-executed and fast-paced as the fight scenes and action sequences are, they can only strive to emulate the energy and inventiveness QT brings to his fights. The all-over-the-place plot does come together in the end if you’re able to pay close attention and a handful of cameos will raise a smile (even if they smack of ‘mates doing favours’) and whilst Bullet Train is no classic it’s probably worth buying a ticket for its hair-raising journey even if the destination isn’t quite what you might have been expecting.Bullet Train is in cinemas now