Bullet Train Movie Review: Brad Pitt Action Vehicle Never Really Gets You on Board

Bullet Train, as the name says, is set on the eponymous Japanese hyper-speed rail network, formally known as the Shinkansen. For a movie, that delivers two things: unmatched (narrative) momentum, and a confined space that forces its characters inside a box. But annoyingly, in what’s partially a trait borrowed from the 2010 Kōtarō Isaka novel that it’s based on, Bullet Train keeps pumping the brakes — literally and metaphorically. The former happens as the Tokaido Shinkansen makes one-minute stops on its journey. Rather than simply use these as gateways to introduce new elements (which it does just once), these stops mostly derail the movie. As for the latter, Bullet Train — out August 4 in India — regularly pauses itself to dump exposition or clue us in on relevant backstory (also exposition).

If you’re going to make an all-out action movie and have most of it take place inside of a bullet train, you got to get creative and ensure the action delivers. But just as he failed on Deadpool 2 (generic and forgettable) and the Fast & Furious spin-off Hobbs & Shaw (incoherent and wholly cartoonish), Bullet Train director David Leitch fails to ignite the spark here too. There isn’t a single choreographed sequence on Bullet Train that bowls you over. It’s a mish mash of ideas that is frequently interrupted by a fellow passenger or a supporting character. There are flashes of interesting bits here and there, but they’re quickly snuffed out in an attempt to be quirky or witty. It’s like Leitch learned all the wrong lessons from his time on Deadpool 2. For all of those film’s wins, the action wasn’t one of them.

And while Leitch had Ryan Reynolds to cover for him on Deadpool 2 — some might say take over as shadow director — and help fuel the film’s humour, he doesn’t have that luxury here. That’s not to say there isn’t any humour here on Bullet Train. But most of it lands like a second draft that clearly needed more polish. I mean, on one occasion, Brad Pitt cracks the super cringey “if you point one finger at me, you’ve got three back at yourself” joke. You know the script — by Zak Olkewicz (Fear Street: Part Two) — needs work if that line makes it into your movie. The two most dedicated bits of humour are courtesy of Pitt spitting out therapeutic self-help talk, and Brian Tyree Henry’s Thomas & Friends analogies. (Both have their origins in the novel.) It might sound weird typed out, but trust me, the Thomas bits grow on you.

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