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‘Bullet Train’ review: Pitt leads a hilariously over-the-top battle royale

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LOS ANGELES — The bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto takes about two hours and 15 minutes — just the amount of time to shoot a cartoon action movie in which half a dozen assassins shoot, stab and otherwise perforate everyone. The pretty faces of others in pursuit of a briefcase stuffed with money. It’s a high-stakes game of hot potato, choreographed and executed by “Atomic Blonde” director David Leitch, in which self-deprecating Brat Pitt wears a bucket hat and oversized specs, Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play the bickering “twins.” ” killers Lemon and Tangerine and wedding crasher “Princess” Joey King (known here as “Prince”) is a cunning killer who can fake cry on command.

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These quirky characters—and half a dozen other deadly so-and-so’s, with names like “Hornet” (Zazie Beetz) and “Wolf” (Benito A Mart?nez Ocasio, aka “Bad Bunny”)—are identified by giant on-screen labels overlaying their flash-frozen mugs, as Martin Scorsese or Guy Ritchie like to refer to their sets. “Bullet Train” feels like it came from the same brain as “Snatch,” which wears its pop style on its sleeve — a mix of martial arts, manga, and gabby hitman movie influences like “Kill Bill,” without the vision or wit that stands for it.

Adapting Kotar Isaka’s pulp novel “MariaBeetle” for a mostly Western cast, Leitch and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz make each of these characters twice as eccentric as needed to keep the audience’s attention for a moment. Maria (played by Sandra Bullock) is the bug in Pitt’s ear, leading the newly nonviolent tough guy (a detail recently seen in The Hitman’s Bodyguard movies) into what is supposed to be the funnest job of his career: boarding a bullet train. in Tokyo, grab a MacGuffin and get off at the next stop. Cha-ching goes choo-choo. Except that Ladybug (as Pitt’s character is nicknamed) is unlucky as hell, and there seems to be more murderers than Agatha Christie could fit on the Orient Express.

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Meanwhile, innocent bystanders are at a minimum. There’s a busy woman who keeps Ladybug and Citron quiet when their fistfight gets too distracting, but after a few stops, they’re pretty much the only passengers left on board who would literally kill for that briefcase. There’s also the incredibly venomous Boomslang snake, whose venom takes 30 seconds to make victims bleed from the eyes, like poor Logan Lerman (the first character to be bitten, serving the rest of the film in cadaverous “Weekend at Bernie’s mode”).

The film’s strategy is to keep throwing deadly obstacles at Pitt’s character, who gets to the bulletproof Tumi fairly easily early on. Ladybug is remarkably good at improvising her way out of trouble—even if the movie literally gets lost at the end. Setting all this chaos aboard a train wasn’t Leitch’s idea, though the stuntman-turned-director makes the most of this limitation, staging visually interesting set pieces in various cars. Ladybug and the wolf have a knife fight in a bar. Later, he and Tangerine break up the kitchen. In the neon-lit segment of the train, funny things happen with the mascot of the local children’s show, who keeps getting punched in the face. Even the toilets are fair game.

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The fight scenes feel fairly original, which is impressive in itself considering how many other creative filmmakers are trying to define themselves in the genre. Leitch tends to approach these stand-offs like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire once did their dance numbers: The violence doesn’t have to be taken literally (which is sometimes difficult, given how brutal the gore can be), but rather is appreciated above all else for their choreography. and the ability to surprise.

Still, there’s something callous about Leitch’s casual take on human life. “Bullet Train” represents one of the first and most ambitious pandemic-created blockbusters to be released, proving that Leitch and company were confident enough that the world would return to normal that they could push the prince away from a six-year-old. roof only to lure the child’s father (Andrew Koji, by far the film’s weakest link) onto the train. King’s character is a real piece of work, wearing a black bob and a pink schoolgirl outfit. She is a callous manipulator who often poses as an innocent victim to ensnare her prey.

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Ultimately, “Bullet Train” reveals that behind this random gathering of hitmen was an elaborate plan by the fearsome underworld boss of the White Death (Michael Shannon) to avenge his wife’s death. But he’s not the only one who’s lost a loved one, as the samurai “Elder” Hiroyuki Sanada shows when he boards a stop or two before Kyoto.

The geographic logic of “Bullet Train” doesn’t make a lot of sense, but then the movie looks like it was shot without the leads, and that’s only in Japan. And why not? It’s basically a live-action cartoon, with high profile portraits for extra laughs. Stylistically, Leitch does his best to channel the likes of Tarantino and Ritchie, though the dialogue and fake British accents aren’t nearly strong enough to merit such comparisons.

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Tangerine and Lemon are likable characters, even if the latter keeps talking about how everything he learned about humans came from “Thomas the Tank Engine” (which explains a lot about how reductive the film’s understanding of human nature is). Likewise, Ladybug constantly quotes corny self-help aphorisms that always get a laugh. That might be a fun enough ride, but the points being driven home are that neither the characters nor the film they inhabit are particularly deep. In fact, quite the opposite. As Calvin and Hobbes aptly put it, their train of thought is still boarding the station.

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