Brad Pitt in Bullet Train


As a movie lover/reviewer who's been at this a lo-o-ong time, it should go without saying that I almost never see a film anymore that I'd consider calling my new all-time favorite (though a few more screenings of Everything Everywhere All at Once might change matters). But every now and then, I do see films that I'm pretty certain will be somebody's new all-time favorite, and director David Leitch's comedy thriller Bullet Train absolutely feels like one of those titles.

For the record, despite the action sequences being too chaotic and the gags, in general, too stupid for my tastes, I did find Leitch's and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz's adaptation of Kōtarō Isaka's 2010 novel Maria Beetle occasionally diverting. Brad Pitt looks to be having, and is certainly delivering, some fun; the supporting cast is filled with winners, among them two performers who appear to be auditioning for the title role in a Weekend at Bernie's remake; the narrative is surprisingly lucid given the hectic pacing and reams of flashbacks; and one demise was so unexpected that my laugh was like a miniature bomb exploding in my throat. I still didn't love it. Here's who likely will love Bullet Train, however, and potentially love it enough to place Leitch's film at the very top of their go-to re-watch list: viewers who have the John Wick and Deadpool series committed to memory; viewers who wish American movies were more like manga; viewers who adore Reservoir Dogs and the Kill Bill flicks but think Jackie Brown is boring; viewers who find beautiful women fascinating yet inherently terrifying; viewers who instinctively giggle at malfunctioning toilets and gay hook-ups and a gal repeatedly calling a guy “bitch”; and viewers who grew up adoring Thomas the Tank Engine. So basically, your stereotypical 13- or 14-year-old boy – or anyone who wishes, even for a couple of hours, that they (still) were one.

As Bullet Train opens, it's present-day Japan, and a slew of assassins and/or thieves have boarded a speedy Shinkansen with murderous and/or larcenous intent. (Oddly, and controversially, very few of them are Japanese.) The sweetest, most conflicted one is code-named Ladybug (Pitt), a former contract killer whose handler – unmistakably voiced by Sandra Bullock – has sent him on a mission to find a stolen briefcase. Nastier ones include the bickering team of Tangerine and Lemon (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry), Cockney “twins” assigned to both protect the briefcase and protect the son (Logan Lerman) of a Russian madman known as White Death; Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji), who's there to execute the passenger who pushed his hospitalized child off a rooftop; Mexican gangster The Wolf (Benito A. Martínez Ocasio), who's seeking revenge for the gruesome deaths of everyone who attended his wedding, bride included; and The Prince, who might be the craziest of them all, and is played by Joey King as a British Bobby-soxer with the ability to weep at will.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brad Pitt in Bullet Train

That's a lot of loony to throw into the mix, and I haven't yet mentioned Hiroyuki Sanada as the retired Yakuza sending off-site instructions, nor Michael Shannon and Zazie Beetz as additional figures with eventual blood on their hands. (Unfortunately, for those of us who enjoy watching previous co-stars re-team on-screen, we're denied reunions for both Nocturnal Animals' Shannon and Taylor-Johnson and Atlanta's Beetz and Henry … though it is a kick to hear Pitt and Bullock bantering again after their too-few minutes together in The Lost City.) Happily, though, the too-muchness of Bullet Train's character pastiche isn't overwhelming. You won't immediately comprehend everyone's specific agendas, and some of them aren't revealed until the movie's final minutes. Yet their goals are always clear in the moment, and the actors' reactions to each new pitfall ensure that you're always aware of what a setback means, even if you're not 100-percent confident about why it means what it does.

Those mishaps would no doubt have greater effect if Leitch gave us a stronger sense of geography; if we knew, for instance, that the kiddie car was next to the quiet car, or where, precisely, the lounge was located. (An early tracking shot of Ladybug traversing the Shinkansen car to car would have helped immeasurably.) But Bullet Train's cast does a fine job of lending emotional logic to wildly illogical circumstances, and Leitch – who, in addition to that jazzy Charlize Theron spy thriller Atomic Blonde, directed the first John Wick and the second Deadpool – is one of few modern helmers who truly understands how to craft a fight scene. The key, he seems to instinctively know, is whole bodies in motion, and even though I found the hand-to-hand combat excessively grisly and ultimately exhausting, I admired the brutal beauty of Leitch's choreography, especially considering how little of it involved gunplay. Don't get me wrong: Bullets are by no means reserved for the film's title, and one of them lands in such a way that the geyser of blood that results is indistinguishable from Old Faithful. Many of the more savage encounters, however, are almost balletic in style, and they keep your eyes invested when there's nothing going on to activate your brain.

At times, in truth, it appears as though Leitch's movie is doing everything in its power to deactivate your brain. There isn't much to gripe about regarding Olkewicz's dialogue; Pitt's Zen-adjacent musings are particularly inventive, and I could gratefully listen to Henry and Johnson comparing the train's passengers to Thomas & Friends choo-choos all day long. Yet a number of the slapstick sequences – Ladybug's and Lemon's constantly shushed battle in the quiet car, Ladybug and Tangerine halting their vicious duel for the arrival of Karen Fukuhara's concessions girl – are maddeningly dopey. And the flashbacks to that ill-fated wedding, Ladybug getting shot twice in succession, and Tangerine's and Lemon's fourth-wall-busting squabble over whether they've killed 16 or 17 people during their career reek of those time-killing Tarantino wannabes that we were inundated with in the late '90s – strung-together scenes of vacuously empty violence whose context isn't impenetrable so much as simply pointless. I get all the reasons that Bullet Train might be a new classic for certain moviegoers with certain, very specific fixations. For some of us, though, it's largely just spinning its wheels.

Brandon Wardell and Jo Koy in Easter Sunday


Released, for unfathomable reasons, six months after its arrival would have made sense, Easter Sunday stars comedian Jo Koy as a comedian navigating the issues of his lightly messed-up clan, and I guess it's a sign of cultural progress that Diane Keaton is nowhere in sight, and Filipinos now have a terrible dysfunctional-family comedy of their very own – and a holiday-themed one, to boot.

Unlike similar works in the Keaton oeuvre, director Jay Chandrasekhar's feature isn't abrasive and doesn't feel grossly calculated – it's friendly and bighearted, and its focus on a severely underrepresented demographic makes you really want to like it. Boy, though, does the script by Ken Cheng and Kate Angelo make that difficult. While there are plenty of clearly talented folks on-screen, nobody is allowed more than two dimensions, and the running gags about sisters who won't speak yet barely remember why and clueless entrepreneurs and local-boy-made-good Lou Diamond Phillips (rather awkwardly playing himself) don't do anyone any favors. As for Koy, he's certainly genial and appears to be trying hard. But he's also stuck with the worst material – his church speech that turns into an impromptu standup set is easily the film's low point – and frankly, he's hard to watch for more than a few minutes at a time given what Tiffany Haddish's character accurately describes as Koy's “Pitbull, wavering, glassy eyes.”

Yet at least the movie has Haddish, who was responsible for most of the few smiles Chandrasekhar's comedy elicited from me, as well as the ill-served but welcome Brandon Wardell, Jimmy O. Yang, Eva Noblezada, Eugene Cordero, and Lydia Gaston. (Chandrasekhar himself plays a smarmy Hollywood agent not at all unconvincingly.) Oh yeah, and Tia Carrere. Remember Tia Carrere? That knockout who played Mike Myers' rock-chanteuse girlfriend in Wayne's World? There's a scene here in which she sings karaoke. I was pretty miserable for Easter Sunday's 96-minute duration. But for those few seconds of Carrera returning with mic – not Mike – in hand, I couldn't imagine wanting to be anywhere else.

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