“Shinkansen” derails, but the pit does not derail

riding the high-speed locomotive of “bullet train” Ride at least five assassins, one poisonous reptile (a snake on a train), countless clever Guy Ritchie-esque slow-motion action sequences, and one bucket hat wearing Brad Pitt.

This candy-colored cinematic battle royale has a lot going for it. But only the last one really matters. Pitt’s star power, 58, has never felt so easy and natural. It shines in “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood,” is delicious in “The Lost City,” and Pit slides into “Shinkansen” in a rare state of cruise control. Rarely does a movie star look like he’s having so much fun.

In “Bullet Train,” which hits theaters Friday, Pitt plays a gun hired by profession and little else. His codename is Ladybug. he doesn’t like guns And in his first job, which he returned after a pause in self-reflection and therapy, he very reluctantly entered into deadly combat, and in the midst of hand-to-hand combat, used self-help techniques such as “hurting a man to hurt a man”. Spit out slogans. The biggest movie star with minimalist tendencies, Pitt is a hitman who hates to punch.

A ladybug tasked with grabbing a very specific briefcase off a train heading from Tokyo to Kyoto may not be up to the task, but the bigger question is, “Shinkansen” is good enough for its biggest star. David Leitch, stuntman-turned-director of Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, brings the style and energy of the John Wick films (where he co-directed the first) to brought to the setting with which it has traditionally been associated. with a more sophisticated method of killing.

However, with movies such as Bong Joon-ho’s “Snowpiercer” and Liam Neeson’s “The Commuter” squeezing the wheel, railroad movies have gained momentum since the original “Murder on the Orient Express.” has increased. Based on Kotaro Isaka’s pulp novel Maria Beetle, Shinkansen amplifies the carnage and moves the action to Japan.

But the place here is little more than a neon-lit stage for a high-speed brawl with an international ensemble that includes Brian Tyree Henry (the best of the bunch) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Andrew Koji as a Japanese assassin. A Mexican cartel veteran named Wolfe (Benito A. Martinez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny). A dangerous young woman called Prince fakes crying to get out of almost everything (Joey King). The murderer of Zazie Beetz, known as the Hornet.

All are on the train for various criminal reasons, ultimately involving a Russian kingpin called the White Death. The actor playing this most terrifying character is best left to a third-act reveal, but that’s just one of his ways that “Shinkansen” plays with the star’s persona. There is a cameo answering Pitt in “The Lost City.” Another “Lost City” star, Sandra Bullock, can only be heard on the other end of the phone line as Ladybug’s handler.

Tons of flashbacks and quirky banter with juggling of all these characters between bloody encounters (Henry’s character has a perspective based on Thomas the Train) is a long line of Quentin Tarantino knockoffs. Proudly choosing style over substance, Bullet Train introduces characters like video game fighters, running gags to the ground and winking irreverence. Saga lands somewhere between playful and exhausting.

Not a train wreck. Leach’s films are colorful, cartoonish, and well-choreographed. But the manic energy of “Bullet Train” fades away. Well, that and the pit. His charm alone does wonders for the film, at least elevating it to a watchable level. In the finale, when Ladybug sails comically unharmed through the wreckage, it captures the situation precisely.

Columbia Pictures’ release, “Bullet Train,” is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for its intense and gory violence, rampant language, and brief sexuality. Recording time: 126 minutes. 2.5 out of 4 stars.


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter.

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