Agatha Christie has been outpaced. Ninety years after she perfected the murder-on-a-train trope, David Leitch’s Bullet Train shovels a load of Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, and manga into the engine to take the railway whodunnit right up to 200mph.
Adapted from Kotaro Isaka’s novel, Bullet Train finds almost-retired hitman Ladybug (Brad Pitt) take on one last job: stealing a briefcase from Japan’s fastest-moving train. Strolling in under a bucket hat to the funk baseline of ‘Stayin’ Alive’, Pitt looks like he’s walked straight out of his own scenes in Snatch – just one of many nods to Ritchie in a film steeped in ’90s/’00s Brit crime comedies.
The two goons Ladybug is swiping the case from, Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), only speak in Lock, Stock banter (with Henry doing his best, weirdest London accent). Our protagonist also has to contend with The Prince (Joey King), a schoolgirl with a knack for explosives, and Yuichi (Andrew Koji), a man out to nail the Russian underworld kingpin who put his son in a coma.
Factor in a carriageful of big-name cameos, a dancing Japanese-TV mascot, and a vintage jukebox soundtrack and you’ve got the perfect broad canvas for Leitch to splatter with blood. Distilling all the cartoon carnage of Leitch’s Deadpool 2, Bullet Train gives the director another chance to mix pop comedy with beautifully over stylised violence, always seeming most comfortable whenever anyone has a gun or a knife or some deadly skin-melting snake venom in their hand.
Less at home with the actual story, the film is both fast and flabby. On the one hand, it serves up endless twists for about half an hour longer than is necessary. On the other, it clutters the track with too many narrative signposts. Ending up in a CG mess that tries to say something about karma, Bullet Train isn’t the Pulp Fiction on rails it thinks it is.
What it is, though, is a whole dollop of fun. Buoyed by Leitch’s expert eye for action as well as one of the most hilariously disposable A-list casts around, the film has Friday night written all over it. Come for the big sprawling crime thriller; stay for Brad Pitt playing with a toilet before taking someone out with a bottle of mineral water.
Bullet Train is in UK cinemas from August 3 and US theaters from August 5. For more, check out our interview with David Leitch on the making of Bullet Train.