When you hire a screenwriter that doesn’t have a single feature film on his resume and put him in charge of writing this project, things fall apart in spectacular fashion.
Like most John Wick clones, “Bullet Train” offers a series of impressive visuals in a film that is a big-budget bottle movie packing the overwhelming majority of its story within a few cars of a train. The setup of the movie involves a bunch of assassins on a train who can only get off the train for 1 minute per station before advancing to its next objective.
Numerous plot devices and traps are established with both short-term and long-term payoffs throughout the movie. The action is tight and intimate for the first two acts of the movie while the story teases a bigger power play through the lens of minor characters. The story only gives enough details to the audience to keep them following along to the end. Brad Pitt does most of his own stunts and the acting of the movie is solid in terms of individual performances. It’s not the actors that fail this movie, it’s the storytelling.
Screenwriter Zak Olkewicz has only worked on the Netflix film series “Fear Street” before being awarded a 90 million dollar budget film. Not only does Olkewicz write bland flavorless characters, but the story itself becomes a joke due to the film’s need to be an “action comedy”.
“Bullet Train” comes off as someone who tried to recreate a Guy Ritchie movie and failed spectacularly. One of the biggest controversies about this film was deciding to “whitewash” characters that were written as Japanese in the original novel.
Understanding that the film couldn’t market a 90 million-dollar film in the US with lesser-known Japanese actors, the central problem isn’t whitewashing, it is that the Japanese characters were replaced by characters who offer no charisma for audiences.
Bryan Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play brothers who everyone thinks are “twins” in one of the numerous running gags in the film. Johnson, who is British, feels like he’s doing a terrible British accent throughout the course of the film while Henry, who is not British, struggles to maintain a British accent while driving a running joke about Thomas the Tank Engine straight into the ground. Joey King, is in the film as a young assassin who does more to manipulate than kill her victims. King’s character who is not so subtlety named “The Prince” is a character that’s only in the film do the circumstance in any actual necessity.
The characters not only offer nothing as far as entertainment, but the dialogue they are given is absolutely abysmal. We spend most of the film with Brad Pitt’s character as he’s arguing over the phone with his Handler in scenes that are meant to be played off for laughs that aren’t funny. Multiple big name actors are giving surprise cameos throughout the course of the film but are wasted down to gay jokes and comedy puns.
As the story progressives, the film gets more ridiculous with every turn and twist. Characters including our protagonist become more unlikable as time rolls on, and when we get to the film’s third act, the story becomes a full-fledged Looney Tunes cartoon. Do not expect Brad Pitt’s yoga instructor attitude to save the film’s quality because “Bullet Train” crumbles under the weight of its own stupidity.