Much of Brad Pitt’s charisma lies in him not knowing how handsome he is. As such, at 58, he has foregone the Botox treatment, and every line on his face looks earned and welcome. He never pretties up to the camera but instead makes you come to him. The secret of his charm is in him letting his inner goofball out like Cary Grant without looking like a klutz.
Pitt, in the aptly named “Bullet Train,” where the action is relentless, straightforward, and inevitably headed toward a denouement, carries the film with his self-deprecating wit and willingness to look stupid. He isn’t so much acting as he is enjoying himself, and pardon the cliche, the audience is willing to go along for the ride with him because his enjoyment is so infectious. We laugh with him but not at him.
Based on a Japanese novel, “Bullet Train,” with its bloody, physics-defying fights, plot-be-damned approach, and enjoyable irony — the assassins’ names (Pitt’s moniker is Ladybug) don’t give you an indication of what they do for a living, as does the aptly-named Nick Fury — is really a throwback to the action-for-action’s-sake films of the 1980s and 1990s.
There is something charming about a film whose sole purpose is to entertain, like what “Indiana Jones” films used to do. The plot, such as it is, is about a trainload of assassins killing each other over a suitcase full of money within the claustrophobic confines of a train. But the fisticuffs are amazing, and clearly whatever was left over from the actors’ salaries went into the stunts.
Indeed, the fights match the much-celebrated, bone-breaking train fight between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw in the Bond film “From Russia With Love.”
Equally charming is that in our era of relentless reboots and sequels “Bullet Train” dares to be an original stand-alone film. But as with the Marvel films, “Bullet Train” delivers what audiences plop their money down for: an action film whose script is solely designed to get people punching each other.
Like a Quentin Tarantino film, everyone in “Bullet Train” has to be eccentric. There are several cameos in the film including Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock. In many ways, Bullock is the female equivalent of Pitt. She is pretty, doesn’t trade on it, and is willing to let her inner nerd out.
But without the appealing charm of Pitt, who manages to dominate every scene through his sheer joy of performance, the movie would just be a tireless retread of the 1980s and 1990s films where B-movie actors like Steven Seagal tried to muster up some charisma and always failed.