‘Bullet Train’ (2022) is a deeply excruciating, annoying and tedious experience and that’s all down to three very specific reasons: the dialogue, the pacing and an unbearable level of smugness. What makes it all even worse is that there is some good stuff going on here but those positives are so hobbled by the above flaws that ‘Bullet Train’ is rendered incredibly frustrating.
The film also doesn’t do itself any favours by starting off as a sub-standard Guy Ritchie clone except containing even worse dialogue and when you find yourself referring to something as “sub-standard Guy Ritchie but with even worse dialogue” then you know a movie’s in serious trouble.
So there’s mockney gangsters spouting inane, profanity-laden dialogue the writers would claim was sharp and cheeky but is actually insufferably infantile whilst a delight in excessive violence precludes ‘Bullet Train’ from being viewed by its ideal, target audience — i.e. three year old toddlers.
And when I say the dialogue is infantile and inane I mean it. For example, one of the characters has a quirk (something this film mistakes for character) where he views life purely through the lens of Thomas the Tank Engine. The first problem is it isn’t funny to begin with. The second problem is this isn’t a throw-away gag but one of the core foundations of the entire script so I hope you REALLY like jokes about Thomas the Tank Engine because 85% of ‘Bullet Train’s script is constructed of them, and NONE of them work and ALL of them are annoying.
Another example of how awful this script is occurs when Brad Pitt literally gives up on completing a joke halfway through and just leaves it up to the audience to fill in the rest. Hang on! Were professional script writers not used for this movie and, if so, isn’t writing the dialogue, you know… their job? Again, I’m sure they’d reply that leaving the joke hanging was ‘knowing’ and ‘sly’ but, in reality, just comes across as scream-inducingly smug.
And smugness is another of this film’s massive problems, something only exacerbated by the fact the movie is nowhere near funny enough to warrant such preening self-regard. How smug is ‘Bullet Train’? At one point we’re meant to explode in either joy, laughter or hysteria simply because Ryan Reynolds has appeared on screen for one shot and with the gag being, and ONLY being, “Hey! Look, it’s Ryan Reynolds!” Maybe that does work for you but, if so, you’re, again, more than likely a three year old toddler, in which case my I congratulate you on your highly advance language skills and having managed to read this far.
These issues of being woefully unfunny and shit-eatingly arrogant would be somewhat tolerable if it wasn’t for the fact that ‘Bullet Train’s pacing is so over the place, so ungainly and sporadic that it transforms an action flick about fighting on a speeding train into a two hour slog. Every time the film builds up even the slightest head of steam it immediately undercuts any and all momentum by stopping dead in its tracks for another unfunny aside, idiotic remark or pointless gag.
There’s a moment during the climactic fight when the entire movie stops dead to provide us with the back-story of a plastic water bottle. It’s supposed to be hilarious in its incongruity but we might as well be watching a tumble-weed roll across the screen instead. This constant stepping on the brakes stops the film from fully taking flight so despite all the action occurring before our eyes the excitement levels never reach the required escape velocity to let everything soar. It’s deeply infuriating.
Although not as infuriating as the fact that ‘Bullet Train’ does has some genuinely good stuff going on in it. The action is nicely handled, the actors are fun even if their dialogue isn’t and when I realised the film was riffing on the Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing movie ‘Horror Express’ (1972), as people die on a train with blood pouring from their eyes, I did detect that a smile had briefly flitted across my features. Not only that but as the film goes on the Guy Ritchie/Matthew Vaughn-esque obnoxious tendencies gradually recede to reveal a film with a little more warmth and heart than it initially appeared to possess. It’s just a shame that by the time I realised ‘Bullet Train’ wasn’t entirely appalling that it was all too late and I was already bored to death.
Chop out a good thirty minutes, improve the structure, re-write every single line of dialogue, drop any and all traces of smugness and you might, just might, have a movie worth sitting through. As it is it’s just exhausting.