Ladybug’s fellow killers are a bomber crew of homicidal oddballs. Joey King is “The Prince,” who poses as an innocent schoolgirl appalled by the cruelty of men, but immediately reveals herself as a clever and ruthless engine of destruction. Bryan Tyree Henry and Aaron-Taylor Johnson (who’s groomed to look like the evil drunk Begbie from the original “Trainspotting“) are brothers who have gone from mission to mission racking up a body count seemingly in the triple digits, and now find themselves on the train protecting the briefcase and escorting the depressed twenty-something wastrel son (Logan Lerman) of a terrifying crime boss known as the White Death. The White Death is a Russian who took over a Yakuza family. His face isn’t shown until the end of the story (it’s more fun for the audience to resist Googling who plays him, because his casting is one of the best surprises in the whole thing). Hiroyuki Sanada is “The Elder,” a greying but still lethal assassin connected to the White Death, and Andrew Koji is “The Father“—The Elder’s son, obviously; they’re on the train because somebody pushed The Elder’s grandson off a department store roof, putting him in a coma, and they believe the person responsible is on the train, along with all the other agents of destruction.
The plot initially seems goal based, revolving the comatose grandson and the metal briefcase. But as the script adds new fighters to the mix, and establishes that they’re all somehow connected to the White Death, the movie morphs into a half-assed but sincere statement on fate, luck, and karma—and Ladybug’s constant (and often humorously annoying) comments on those subjects, voiced in discussions through a handler (Sandra Bullock’s Maria Beetle, heard via earpiece), start to feel like an instruction manual for grokking what the movie is “actually” up to.
Characters are given the sorts of typeface-onscreen-followed-by-flashback-montage introductions that genre fans will recognize from directors like Quentin Tarantino (“Kill Bill” seems to be a primary influence) and Guy Ritchie (who pioneered a particular brand of “lad action” in which verbal insults become the equivalent of little fists and knives deployed against enemies). The fighters go after each other with guns, knives, their fists, and whatever available object they can get their hands on (the aforementioned briefcase that’s central the the plot gets quite a workout as both a defensive weapon and a bludgeon). They banter as they struggle, and sometimes when one of them dies, the tone will shift into a maudlin lament that is often affecting because of the cast’s skill, but that doesn’t inspire deep emotion because the rest of the movie is so glib and light.