‘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

This Is a Movie Review: Life (2017)

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This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2017.

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Beautifully Disturbing Blood Loss

Release Date: March 24, 2017

The paradox of life is that it requires death to be sustained. The paradox of Life is that its successes and failures are both technical, with staging both skillful and sloppy alternately sustaining and choking itself. This combination corresponds thematically with the story, but I do not think it is intentional, and it is frustrating regardless. This is a locked-room creature feature that does not show its hand too early. Once it does, it knows how to drag out the tension, but it also occasionally forgets that knowledge.

The premise here is ideal for instant dread. A six-person crew on board the International Space Station meets a life form that has hitched a ride on a returning Martian probe. Dubbed “Calvin” by a group of stargazing schoolchildren, the creature starts out microscopic but soon starts growing to the point that it is no longer a curiosity and more a threat. I know what you’re thinking: this is Alien, but in space … er, a different part of space. A part of space where your screams can be heard, if only all communication – as is so often the case – had not immediately been destroyed.

There is no escaping the comparisons to Ridley Scott’s extraterrestrial horror landmark, but Life does distinguish itself with plenty of philosophical thought lent to the creature concept. Each cell of Calvin has the capacity to fulfill any bodily function. It eventually grows to resemble a crystalline starfish, but it is very much its own new frontier, with its entire body (if that is even the right word) serving as mouth, hands, legs, and whatever else it can use to survive. Also, when it comes down to the resolution, this is more The Thing than Alien. The ISS is not in deep space, but rather close Earth orbit, so if Calvin is not suppressed, there is a very real chance he could consume the whole planet. Life does not shy away from just how nasty that implication is.

The devilish little monster flick that Life mostly succeeds at being is constantly interrupted by a survival tale that fails because no character has any room to come across as a fully realized human being. That is not necessary in a movie like this, but when there is as much dialogue as Life has, it becomes important. But the editing and cinematography seem wholly uninterested in any of that. Shots are frequently cut mid-sentence, effectively garbling the speech, and the look is so washed out, which is fine for generating unease, but annoying when attempting to make sense of facial expressions. Horror often works best by withholding its villain, but the formula is a little different when the monster is by far the most fascinating character.

Life is Recommended If You LikeAlien (though it’s not as well-crafted), The Thing (though it’s not quite as ominous), Tremors (but without the cheekiness)

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Doomed Lab Rats