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Brad’s nightmare train journey hits the buffers: BRIAN VINER reviews Bullet Train 

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Bullet Train (15, 126 mins)

Rating:

Verdict: Not value boarding

The Japanese don’t do rail strikes. Or no less than, after they do, all the things still runs on time — disgruntled staff just stop charging passengers for tickets. 

But when ever there was a moment to wish for the abrupt cancellation of a service between Tokyo and Kyoto, it’s about ten minutes into Bullet Train.

The journey has hardly begun before there are serious signal problems. Specifically, the signal that the screenplay has been written by someone (Zak Olkewicz) with a fourth-form sense of humour.

Thus, a grown-up assassin (Brian Tyree Henry) seems to be dedicated to the Thomas the Tank Engine stories. 

‘Every thing I learnt about people, I learnt from Thomas,’ he says, and plainly we’re all meant to cherish the irony of a deadly hitman on a train travelling at 250 mph citing the wisdom of an anthropomorphised locomotive intended for five-year-olds.

If ever there was a moment to wish for the abrupt cancellation of a service between Tokyo and Kyoto, it’s about ten minutes into Bullet Train

If ever there was a moment to wish for the abrupt cancellation of a service between Tokyo and Kyoto, it’s about ten minutes into Bullet Train

The joke, you see, is within the dissonance. Although after I say joke, what I mean is burden, one which poor doughty Henry is obliged to hold forwards, well beyond the purpose at which you would like the Fat Controller would sit on him and put us all out of our misery.

In fairness to the author, Olkewicz, possibly he merely lifted the running Thomas gag from the novel by Kotaro Isaka on which this idiotic and disagreeably violent comedy-action thriller relies.

Either way, someone at Sony Pictures should have thought there was material here worthy of a correct heavyweight solid, led by Brad Pitt, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson in support, and Michael Shannon, Channing Tatum, Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in cameos.

Pitt plays a hitman codenamed Ladybug. His prolonged ‘joke’ is that he’s not temperamentally a killer, being quite a sensitive cove. He wears a bucket hat to place much more distance between him and the usual movie representation of an assassin, although after all he’s as brutal because the script needs him to be.

Feeding jaunty instructions into Ladybug’s earpiece is his own controller — a quite skinny one it transpires, played by a mostly unseen Bullock. She wants him to board the bullet train to Kyoto and snatch a mysterious briefcase.

This task brings him into conflict with one other pair of mercenaries played by Henry and Johnson, West Ham-supporting cockneys codenamed Lemon and Tangerine.

Let me add here that I went to see this film on Tuesday night with my grown-up daughter and she pronounced it ‘quite good fun’. There are certainly a few excellent stunts. So just because it didn’t punch my ticket, doesn’t mean it won’t punch yours

Let me add here that I went to see this film on Tuesday night with my grown-up daughter and she or he pronounced it ‘quite good fun’. There are definitely a number of excellent stunts. So simply because it didn’t punch my ticket, doesn’t mean it won’t punch yours 

The latter, looking and sounding remarkably like Eric Idle as his ‘nudge-nudge wink-wink’ character from Monty Python, also seems unsuited to the killing business, being slow-witted in the intense. But he, too, seems to be a type of compound of James Bond and John Wick, making him a Bond who gets in your wick.

Anyway, these two dimwits are on the train escorting the son of a fearsome gangster often known as The White Death (Shannon).

Are you with me to date? If not, it really doesn’t matter. Other passengers include a sneaky schoolgirl killer (Joey King), a Mexican assassin called Wolf (the rapper Bad Bunny), and a Japanese martial arts expert (Andrew Koji) intent on punishing the one that threw his son off a high-rise constructing, leaving the kid in intensive care. 

That’s not a storyline especially relevant to the plot, incidentally, yet its significance lies in the way in which it’s blithely inserted into the script, as if we would all be completely impervious to such a distressing image.

So long as we realize it’s for comic effect, right?

Attempting and largely failing to make all this cohere is director David Leitch, whose credits include Atomic Blonde (2017), Deadpool 2 (2018) and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019). 

In other words, it’s probably fair to assume that he just isn’t a person much influenced by the Merchant-Ivory canon. If there may be a conspicuous influence in Bullet Train, it’s Guy Ritchie. Indeed, the intense violence and tricksy camerawork, not to say those two East End hitmen with their strained comic banter, made me check I hadn’t missed Ritchie’s name on the bill.

Let me add here that I went to see this film on Tuesday night with my grown-up daughter and she or he pronounced it ‘quite good fun’. There are definitely a number of excellent stunts. So simply because it didn’t punch my ticket, doesn’t mean it won’t punch yours.

But compared with a number of the great cinematic thrillers set all or partly on trains down the years (The Lady Vanishes, Strangers On A Train, The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three), this one should never have left the sidings.

Also intended for comic effect, somewhere on the train there’s a deadly snake at large, so poisonous that it makes you bleed from every orifice after being bitten. For a few of us, that looks as if a fairly decent metaphor for the film itself.

Also showing

Predator vs. Comanche proves a surprise hit

Prey 

Rating:

Our Everlasting Summer

Rating:

Predator, such a mighty, steamrolling vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger, seemed very much of its time when it got here out in 1987, directed by Die Hard’s John McTiernan. 

Nevertheless it spawned a franchise which remains to be going strong, and the most recent incarnation, a prequel to the opposite 4 movies, is Prey (99 mins), set in Comanche territory within the early 18th century.

Should you’re a Predator fan you then’ll probably find this a worthy addition, though I can imagine what Arnie thinks about its straight-to-streaming release. The Native American actress Amber Midthunder dominates the story as Naru, a daring young hunter eager to prove her value to the doubting men of the tribe. 

A lot of the solid, by the way in which, are Native American, which is admirable but raises an issue over the dialogue, which is stuffed with modern white-man colloquialisms. ‘Who invited you?’ sneers a haughty male warrior when Naru turns up on a hunting expedition, a line that may need been lifted from any twenty first century high-school drama.

The Native American actress Amber Midthunder dominates the story as Naru, a bold young hunter desperate to prove her worth to the doubting men of the tribe

The Native American actress Amber Midthunder dominates the story as Naru, a daring young hunter eager to prove her value to the doubting men of the tribe

Because it seems, casual sexism is the least of Naru’s problems. She will be able to throw a tomahawk with unerring accuracy but there are snarling mountain lions to contend with, and hostile French fur trappers, and after all, most difficult of all, a translucent killer alien. 

Director Dan Trachtenberg does an honest job increase to an exciting finale, and headdresses off to his expert cinematographer, Jeff Cutter, who worked with Trachtenberg on the latter’s terrific debut feature, 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane.

One other debut feature, Our Everlasting Summer (HHHII, 72 mins) is a French film by which a bunch of carefree adolescents, doing all of the things virile French teenagers do in the films, abruptly have their innocence snatched from them when one among their number drowns off a Mediterranean beach after an ill-advised late-night swim.

At barely an hour and 1 / 4 long, Emilie Aussel’s admirably concise film deals mainly with the grief, guilt and recriminations that follow this tragedy.

It’s a coming-of-age story, really, which sensibly keeps grown-ups out of the image and may be very nicely acted by a gaggle of first-timers.

Prey is offered on Disney+. Our Everlasting Summer is on Mubi.

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