"Bullet Train" opens with a cover of "Stayin' Alive," which would also be a good title for the movie, in which very few characters survive.
Most are killers, so it's probably fair to say that getting half of one's head blown off is an occupational hazard. They're all on a high-speed Tokyo-to-Kyoto train. And although they seem to be involved in different capers, you would be right to suspect that their missions intersect in surprising ways in a movie that is very violent, pretty entertaining and a little too pleased with itself.
Brad Pitt's neurotic, compulsively chatty Ladybug is the most entertaining thing about "Bullet Train." Ladybug has been "working on himself," as annoying people sometimes say, so he spends much of the movie mouthing sentiments best expressed in affirmation-of-the-day calendars. The rest of the time, he's trying to reverse a streak of bad luck by completing a murderous assignment.
Similar missions occupy not-as-innocent-as-she-looks Prince (Joey King), the brother team of Lemon and Tangerine (scene-stealing Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson), nasty Wolf (Bad Bunny) and a grieving dad (Andrew Koji) who may have accidentally wandered into this blood-soaked mode of transportation.
That's all I should say about the plot — and, if you plan to see the movie and have not yet watched the trailer, I strongly urge you not to, because it gives away far too much. The fun of "Bullet Train," made by "Atomic Blonde" director David Leitch, is how stylishly the mayhem is choreographed and how the pieces come together over the course of a two-hour train ride.
What's not quite as fun is the smugness that creeps into "Bullet Train," which happens in many of these thrillers that seem to have been made by people who have only seen Quentin Tarantino movies. "Bullet Train" has that Tarantino format of joke/murder/joke/murder/joke down but Leitch has a tendency to underline the amusing stuff, as if we're not going to get it if it's not pointed out. The effect is a bit like a handsome man who's very aware of his handsomeness — the guy looks good, no doubt, but the awareness blunts his appeal.
If you're looking for some high-energy action, I'd still recommend "Bullet Train," which keeps things interesting by whipping us from one part of the train to another in short, staccato scenes. Its graphic violence also makes it a surprising counterpoint to the animated "Luck," which debuts the same day (on Apple TV Plus) and which also features a lead character who believes they're unlucky.
In case you don't feel like watching the movies to find out, I can reveal this: Both characters are wrong.
**1/2 out of 4 stars
Rated: R for grisly violence and strong language.
Where: Area theaters.