‘Bullet Train’ Zooms Past Sensible Storytelling But Manages to Have Some Fun Along the Way

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Bullet Train (CREDIT: Scott Garfield/Sony Pictures)

Starring: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, Michael Shannon, Sandra Bullock, Zazie Beetz, Logan Lerman, Karen Fukuhara, Masi Oka

Director: David Leitch

Running Time: 126 Minutes

Rating: R for Blood from Guns, Swords, Knives, and Poison

Release Date: August 5, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: If a movie takes place on a speeding train, you can bet on non-stop action! Or can you? Well, you can at least rely on a captive set of characters. As the titular transport in Bullet Train charges ahead from Tokyo to Kyoto, our main fellow to follow is Ladybug (Brad Pitt), who appears to be some sort of assassin, except that he doesn’t seem very violent, at least not on this mission. Then there’s the brotherly pair of Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry), who are much more comfortable whipping out their firearms. And there’s no way to miss Prince (Joey King) in her short skirt and tight bubblegum pink sweater; it’s obvious right away that underneath her schoolgirl facade lurks the heart of a killer. Is the fellow known as The Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada) the one pulling all the strings? Maybe! Or maybe it could be that one of the other famous faces that pops up along the way will clear up the confusion. Also, there’s a very poisonous snake wriggling around.

What Made an Impression?: For most of Bullet Train‘s path of destruction, I was never really sure what anybody’s mission was. And quite frankly, none of them seemed to either. Sure, there’s a briefcase with plenty of cash that certainly is worth keeping an eye on. But if anything, that’s the reward and not the job itself. Flashbacks pop up to provide backstory, but they don’t fully answer how everyone ended up on the same departure. MINOR SPOILER ALERT: The conclusion spells it all out eventually. But before then, screenwriter Zak Olkewicz and director David Leitch ask for a lot of patience from the audience. Or they request that we just embrace the ambiguity and enjoy Bullet Train as an exercise in frenetic style and a freaky parade of accents.

I at least appreciated how the casting was in part an inversion of this year’s The Lost City, with Pitt and Sandra Bullock switching the roles of bewildered lead and glorified slightly-more-than-a-cameo. And it’s also fun to behold King subsuming herself into the kinda-sorta Big Bad villain role. But in the meantime, questions abound, such as: is that accent real? And also: is that other accent real? And furthermore: why don’t any of the non-criminal passengers seem to notice the gore and bullet holes all over the place? The ending had me going, “Oh wow, that’s what that was all about?” But beforehand, I was somehow against all odds comforted by the steady hand of a cast willing to do everything that was asked of them without any winks to the camera. Vengeance really never turns out how you expect it to go, especially when all the plot twists feel like they were determined by whacking a piñata and throwing what spilled out into a blender.

Bullet Train is Recommended If You Like: The magnetic charm of Brad Pitt, The reveals on The Masked Singer, Derailments

Grade: 3 out of 5 Boomslangs

‘Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins’ is Too Much Origins, Not Enough Random B-Grade Delights

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Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (CREDIT: Ed Araquel/Paramount Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Skydance)

Starring: Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Úrsula Corberó, Samara Weaving, Iko Uwais, Haruka Abe, Takehiro Hira, Peter Mensah

Director: Robert Schwentke

Running Time: 121 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Swordplay

Release Date: July 23, 2021 (Theaters)

At one point in Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins*, the titular hero is dropped into a pit where he must face off against some very big and very hungry anacondas. And that’s about the only moment that I understood. Well that, and the other scene with the anacondas. Couldn’t this entire movie have been about Henry Golding fighting snakes? Instead, he and his crew square off against the classic G.I. Joe foe known as Cobra, who I really wish were actual cobras. Now that’s a movie that I would recommend. As it is, though, all I can say is that maybe this will be really fun for G.I. Joe obsessives, but for everyone else, I imagine it will be pretty impenetrable.

(*-It’s a rather unwieldy title, but I’m happy to write out the whole thing to differentiate it from the delightful 1998 Brian De Palma/Nicolas Cage thriller.)

In its bare-bone basics, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins isn’t too hard to comprehend. It’s a classic origin story, after all: dead parent, living off the grid, training in a foreign country, passing a series of tests to prove warrior bona fides, et cetera, et cetera. In sussing out why I found this so much less compelling than, say, Batman Begins, I determined that it might just have something to do with the amount of time spent on the actual origin of it all. How a hero became a hero in the first place can be interesting, but generally insofar as it provides context for where that hero is headed. And this movie doesn’t really tell us where Snake Eyes is headed, nor do I care to find out.

Anyway, back to those anacondas. They’re absolutely HUGE, in case I didn’t make that clear enough already. If you can  manage to watch only their scenes and then fill out your taxes during the rest of the movie, then I would say go for it. It’s also worth noting that at one point, Cobra is described as employing the tactics of “violence, extortion, and fear,” which is just poetically wonderful. Who knew that such a shadowy collective would focus so much on something as concrete as extortion?

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is Recommended If You Like: G.I. Joe lore, I guess?

Grade: 2 out of 5 Dice