A Riotous Ride with BULLET TRAIN

The concept of luck can be a little weird. Borrowing from the premise of Unbreakable and keeping things train-themed, suppose that you’re the sole and uninjured survivor of a massive train crash. Are you lucky because you survived, or unlucky to have been a part of the tragedy which will probably haunt you forever? Who’s luckier, you or everyone else who wasn’t on the train?

Unexpectedly, it’s this yin and yang question of the nature of luck, and its sister fate, that serves as a thematic crux of the exhilarating new Japan-set film Bullet Train (no relation to the Japanese 1975 movie of the same name).

Perpetually unlucky hitman “Ladybug” (Brad Pitt) takes on what’s promised to be an easy job — to steal a briefcase for an unknown benefactor. But that simple task turns out to be a much more complex affair than promised, as numerous other menacing and wacky characters are also attempting to lay claim to the MacGuffin.

As it cuts its was across Japan, the speeding shinkansen becomes increasingly full of con-men, gangsters, and assassins at odds, with complex crisscrossing histories and motivations that beg the question — what’s going on and who set it up?

The film’s chock full of familiar faces intended to be surprises, including several cameos, and I won’t ruin the fun of seeing who pops up. But in the primary cast, Pitt is joined by a vengeful father and grandfather (Andrew Koji and Hiroyuki Sanada), a deceitful trickster who’s older and more evil than her girlish looks suggest (Joey King), and several master assassins including “twins” Lemon and Tangerine (Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor Johnson), The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), and Wolf (Bad Bunny), all of whom seem ready to attack without provocation. But why are they all on the same train?

A comedy of errors ensues as the various factions and assassins try (and sometimes succeed) to kill each other off, leaving a dwindling remnant to grapple with the mystery at hand.

I enjoyed the heck out of this one. The cast rules and is clearly having a blast, and the sense of fun is infectious. The comedy lands. The villains are hiss-worthy. After the similarly stylized and terrific Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde, and John Wick, it’s clear I’m a fan of director David Leitch and his brand of mayhem and chaos, especially when there’s some humor sprinkled in. If you’re at all intrigued by the film’s trailers, I think you’ll dig it as well.

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