“Bullet Train” has all the ingredients for a fun ride.  It’s helmed by stuntman-turned-director David Leitch who also brought us “John Wick,”  “Atomic Blonde,” and “Deadpool 2”.  It’s an adaptation of the best-selling Japanese novel “Maria Beetle” written by Kôtarô Isaka. And it has an exceptional cast, led by Brad Pitt, Brian Tyree Henry, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  Unfortunately, it’s also an example of a movie being less than the sum of its parts.

An assassin code-named “Ladybug” (Brad Pitt) boards a bullet train in Japan with a simple mission.  Steal a briefcase and get off at the next stop.  It should be easy enough, but Ladybug considers himself incredibly unlucky.  He’s confident something, many things, will go wrong.  Through the help of a new therapist he is constantly quoting,  Ladybug hopes to cut down on the death, destruction and maiming that usually accompanies his contracts.  With a runtime of just over 2 hours, it is clear that multiple things will go awry, the first being that he is not the only contract killer on the train.  Two brothers, Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) are the current possessors of the precious briefcase.  Tangerine tries to maintain his professionalism but has a touch of compulsive behavior.  Lemon won’t stop talking about “Thomas the Tank Engine,” a show he claims taught him everything he needed to know about human nature.  This is just the beginning of the complexities that being to intertwine aboard the passenger train.  A father looking for vengeance against the person who pushed his adolescent son off a rooftop, and a killer from Mexico looking to avenge the death of his bride also find themselves on the same trip.

As these stories unfold through multiple flashbacks, we slowly begin to see how everyone is connected.  These long expositions are punctuated with some sharp wit and great fight scenes, but unfortunately, it never quite gels into a cohesive experience.  The expositions are just too long, with too much “telling,” and not enough “showing.”  We can’t really identify with any of the characters as every single one is a sociopath, and the silly humor doesn’t always match the tone of the character’s plights.  “Bullet Train” has an identity crisis.  It can’t decide how serious or silly it should be.  Is this a live-action cartoon or a parable about fate, luck, and our perception of reality?  Are we supposed to care for these characters or look forward to them getting whacked?

“Bullet Train” isn’t a bad film, and it absolutely has some memorable moments, but it could have been better served with a little more restraint in the script and a sharper blade in the editing room.

Bullet Train (2022)