Pulp Fiction has a lot to answer for. Anyone who remembers the legion of wannabe Tarantino knock-offs it spawned will get a stab of nostalgia going into Bullet Train – a film that really, really wants to be your new favourite cult classic.
Muddying the mix with nods to Guy Ritchie movies, Japanese cartoons, John Wick and Deadpool 2, director David Leitch (who made John Wick and Deadpool 2) delivers a raucous ’90s throwback with a very messy modern edge. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had spotting the cameos and clapping the gore, but Bullet Train isn’t quite as fun a ride as it thinks it is.
Just like Pulp Fiction, Bullet Train is all about a briefcase. Unlike Pulp Fiction, this one isn’t sitting in an American diner – it’s hurtling through the Japanese countryside at 200mph on the fastest train in the world. Brad Pitt is Ladybug, the almost-retired hitman hired to steal the case from two British gangsters, Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry). Then there’s The Prince (Joey King), The Wolf (Bad Bunny) and The Son (Logan Lerman) – all passengers tangled up in the same twisty plot involving British schoolgirls, Mexican assassins and Russian warlords.
There’s also one Japanese guy (Andrew Koji, also British) who doesn’t do nearly enough to paper over the film’s earliest and biggest criticism – that Hollywood has taken a famous Japanese novel, set it in Japan, and cast it almost entirely with non-Japanese actors. Almost as weird, half of the ‘British’ cast are actually American, which gifts us Tyree Henry’s hilariously specific London accent – just one of many things in Bullet Train that seem to be nicked directly from Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels.
When he’s not trying to be Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie, Leitch proves just how good he is at being himself – amping up the action he already perfected in John Wick and Deadpool 2 to deliver a string of cracking fight scenes between all the ironic banter. Wonderfully over the top, gleefully gory and shot like a Saturday-morning cartoon, the film is at its best when it’s being horrible.
As the twists keep coming (and as even more famous faces keep popping up), Bullet Train starts losing momentum. Crashing headlong into a sloppy CGI ending and backtracking once too many over all the obvious reveals, the film runs out of rail a long time before it stops moving.
On the other hand, it’s almost impossible not to enjoy every moment that Pitt is on screen. Stealing the film with whatever he’s given (a water bottle, a bucket hat, an automatic toilet…), he’s clearly having a great time. It’s lucky for us that at least some of it rubs off.
- Director: David Leitch
- Starring: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
- Release date: August 3 (in cinemas)