Brad Pitt Comedy Suffers From Terminal Smug

So many things went through my mind while watching “Bullet Train”: Bullet trains seem great; why don’t we have them in the United States? Will I ever get to see Mount Fuji? I wonder what flavors of Kit Kats they sell on that train?

These thoughts came because my brain refused to participate in this smooth, terminally smug blood-and-bullet extravaganza, one that feels like it was plucked from what we could call the “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead” period. mention of American cinema, when Quentin Tarantino’s first two feature films encouraged far too many young filmmakers to think they too could make a quick comedy with outrageous gunfights, explicit gore, pop culture references, needle drops, and a suitcase full of cash.

After programming a film festival from 1995 to 1999, I was subjected to more bad “Reservoir Dogs” wannabes than the average moviegoer, which might explain why this new movie slammed early and never won me back. “Bullet Train” leaves virtually no cliché of this sub-genre untouched, from swoopy, confident camera movements to a high-scoring shootout to a harmless hit single from the past. (“I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” gets credit here.)

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Brad Pitt – who, like pretty much every actor involved, is better than this – stars as a grab-and-go man codenamed Ladybug for hire. (Oh yes, they do the cute nickname here too.) Ladybug is instructed by his handler (the voice of Sandra Bullock) to jump on the bullet train in Tokyo, steal a certain suitcase, and then get off at the next stop. on. But it can’t be that easy, otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie.

The train happens to play host to a worldwide gallery of killers, including: Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a pair of killers incongruously known as “The Twins,” who are custodians of the suitcase and of the recently kidnapped son (Logan Lerman) of infamous crime boss The White Death; The Prince (Joey King), whose schoolgirl authenticity belies her murderous intentions; The Wolf (Benito A Martinez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny), a Bolivian mobster seeking revenge; Kimura (Andrew Koji, “Warrior”), whose life is at stake; and a few more players to be revealed later.

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There’s also a deadly venomous snake on board, but it becomes one of the many details that screenwriter Zak Olkewicz (“Fear Street: Part Two – 1978”), who is adapting Kôtarô Isaka’s book, appears to be missing long stretches of the film. forgotten, in the same way that he writes an explanation for what happens to the other passengers, but never explains the disappearance of the train crew.

A quick violent prank about a group of attractive outlaws trying to outwit and/or outsmart each other promises to be fun and exciting, but in the hands of director David Leitch (“Deadpool 2”) it’s an airless affair. It’s clear in the first 20 minutes that this film operates in such a vacuum of smug artificiality that nothing that occurs can ever matter. And instead of leaning on next-level snarkiness, “Bullet Train” builds to a place where, as the bodies begin to pile up, we’re suddenly supposed to be at least some of these characters and their relationships with each other. to give.

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This talented cast is reduced to playing people’s ideas, often with just one defining trait playing them over and over again. (Ladybug loves to repeat his therapist’s self-help aphorisms when he’s not turning people off, while Lemon categorizes each person he meets based on “Thomas the Tank Engine” characters.)

Cinematographer Jonathan Sela (“The Lost City”) provides all the necessary loop-the-loops – this is the kind of movie where a water bottle is flashbacked, complete with POV – and gives all the objects a TV commercial-level shine inside the train car. What is shown through the windows, on the other hand, registers more like VFX animation (of varying degrees of seamlessness) than actual vistas of Japan, suggesting that the film was either shot entirely on the Sony property in Culver City, or that it have been good.

Everything “Bullet Train” was supposed to be was high-gloss, all-star, late-summer crap, but instead it gives high-gloss, all-star, late-summer crap a bad name.

“Bullet Train” hits theaters on August 5.

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