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Movie review: 'Bullet Train' is one exhausting ticket

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Movie review: 'Bullet Train' is one exhausting ticket
Brad Pitt attends the premiere of "Bullet Train" at the Regency Village Theatre in the Westwood section of Los Angeles on August 1, 2022. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Bullet Train, in theaters Friday, is a well-made vehicle, pun intended. However, the film is so intricate in its twisted narrative that it becomes more exhausting than fun.

A hitman code named Ladybug (Brad Pitt) boards the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto to retrieve a briefcase. On the train, he intersects with several other assassins.

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There's British hitman duo Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Schoolgirl The Prince (Joey King), who uses her innocent appearance to her advantage.

The Prince is also holding Kimura (Andrew Koji) hostage, with an assassin on her payroll in Kimura's son's hospital room. The Wolf (Bad Bunny) also shows up, fresh from Ladybug's last hit.

Each of these killer's missions and backstories converge on the bullet train. The film's early flashbacks already become unwieldy and it only gets deeper into the weeds over the next two hours.

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It is respectable how carefully Bullet Train lays out each party's actions so the viewer can follow intersecting plots. The script keeps a lot of balls in the air, and it plays by its own rules so that everything that's set up gets paid off.

At a certain point, there are so many setups that the payoffs are no longer rewarding. They just become a checklist with boxes added faster than they can be checked off.

There are so many reversals and double crosses it wears the viewer down more than surprises them. That trick of flashing back to a character to reveal they did something you didn't see the first time gets really old.

The film also suggests that fate may have played a role in the characters' complex entanglement. That notion falls rather flat when one considers author Kotaro Isaka carefully created this plot and screenwriter Zak Olkewicz adapted it for film.

Ultimately, the connections between characters in Bullet Train reach much further than those in the Saw sequels. It ceases to be revelatory after a while.

Bullet Train uses every compartment on the train for a clever fight scene. Director David Leitch and fight coordinator Greg Rementer come from 87eleven Action Design so they give the action their trademark flair, with a dark sense of humor.

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Ladybug is capable, but unlucky and Pitt is having fun blending the bumbling and badass sides of his role. King also relishes the dime turns her character employs, and every cast member rises to the challenge of their characters.

The film does a good job setting up the rules of the train. There are 16 cars, 10 of which are economy, and it only stops for one minute at each station which is very strict.

When the characters have to double back, they have to find a way to evade adversaries waiting in respective cars. Bullet Train never gives its characters an easy pass for traversing the train.

Give Bullet Train credit for following its own narrative logic to its bombastic conclusion. It certainly didn't play it safe, but Bullet Train may be a cautionary tale about overindulgence.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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