Remember when stoner Floyd (Brad Pitt) murmured “Don’t condescend me, man. I’ll f—-n’ kill ya, man” after being visited by mob enforcer Virgil (James Gandolfini) in 1993’s “True Romance”? Later in the Tony Scott film, he asks a group of mobsters if they’d like to smoke a bowl after they raid his place, guns drawn, looking for his roommate. We all thought the loveable pothead met his demise that day. As it turns out, Floyd got sober, went Zen, decided, if you can’t beat them join them, and became a hitman, code-named: Ladybug.
Ladybug boards a bullet train headed from Tokyo to Kyoto, his mission to retrieve a briefcase filled with cash. His handler Maria Beetle (Sandra Bullock in a mostly voiceover role), tries to convince him to carry a gun, but the Zen-practicing assassin points out that someone always dies during one of his missions and, “I’m not that guy anymore.” This is the first job in a while for Ladybug who only agrees to do it because it’s “simple,” a basic snatch-and-grab.
Little does he know, the train is filled with a plethora of assassins including British brothers Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry sporting a blonde dye job) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), scene stealers who deserve their own spinoff, schoolgirl baddie Prince (Joey King), Latin henchman The Wolf (rapper Bad Bunny), a syringe-toting killer named Hornet (Zazie Beetz) who drops the B-word more than Missy Elliot, former yakuza Kimura (Andrew Koji), veteran Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada as a master swordsman looking for payback, and the wonderful Michael Shannon as a Russian kingpin known as White Death.
Filled with plenty of gratuitous violence, “Bullet Train” is a comedy-heavy “John Wick” that features well-choreographed fight scenes. It doesn’t take itself seriously like a Tarantino movie, and while there are plenty of ridiculous moments, it never gets as absurd as some of the recent “Fast & Furious” sequels. However, the finale is an off-the-rails CGI extravaganza that gives “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” or the “Air Force One” finale a run for its money.
Based on the best-selling novel by Japanese writer Kotaro Isaka, the Hollywood adaptation by director David Leitch and writer Zak Olkewicz, captures the quirkiness of the book, bringing the colorful characters to life. Pitt is the glue that holds the film together, his performance as the affable assassin with a Gilligan hat and oversized glasses, keeps the film from totally derailing. No matter how ludicrous the situation gets, Pitt’s Ladybug keeps the audience convinced that it all makes sense.
Brian Tyree Henry gets special recognition for a wonderful performance as the melodramatic killer Lemon whose life’s creed is based on “Thomas the Tank Engine” the fictional locomotive from the children’s British “Railway Series.” We all have a “Devious Diesel” in our lives, and Lemon can spot them a mile away.
The adrenaline-fused film features plenty of A-list cameos, lots of charm and comedy, and performances by an excellent cast that keeps the film entertaining as the action remains at a solid 11 on a scale of 1-10. Leitch blends action elements from the “John Wick” films he produced, comedy from the “Deadpool” films he directed, and the zaniness of the “Fast” franchise, of which he helmed 2019’s spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw,” resulting in a fun-filled action comedy that could only get better by adding the late Anne “Who the hell are you?” Ramsey to the cast along with Billy Crystal and Danny DeVito.
Now showing in theaters