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  Midnight Meat Train

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields

Directed by: Ryuhei Kitamura

Produced by: Clive Barker, Jorge Saralugei, Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Eric Reid, et. al

Written by: Jeff Buhler

Distributor: Lionsgate


     Perhaps my expectations were too high in hoping that Midnight Meat Train would offer a terrifying rollercoaster ride of a mystery. Or maybe studio Lionsgate just sold the movie inaccurately in the promotional materials. What I know is this: Midnight Meat Train ain’t no Silence of the Lambs when it comes to crafting grisly, psychologically-scarring horror, nor does it try to be. This is a dressed-up, pulpy splatterfest that is unrelenting in its depiction of violence, ultimately no more riveting than standard-issue torture-porn even though it’s a thousand times more stylish. Blood-crazed Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura is a part of the project for a reason – and it isn’t a good one.

     I’m certain that the above comments will cause countless fans of Kitamura and source-author Clive Barker to send me dozens of angry e-mails about how much I’m misunderstanding the point of Midnight Meat Train’s existence. To this accusation, I would merely respond that I’m judging the movie on its own merits as I see fit. Barker likely didn’t intend for the material to be compared to The Silence of the Lambs—judging by his usual themes, I’d say this is a sure thing—but such a mold is the only means by which I can perceive the premise working. Said premise is ingenious in its simplicity: a photographer searching for material late one evening on the city subway discovers a murderer who, he learns, very well may be butchering the last rider each night and giving the meat to a slaughterhouse. Nonetheless, because of its simplicity, the story desperately needs a substantive emotional angle, much like the one developed between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling as they pursued Buffalo Bill.

     To say the least, developing said emotional angle is the least of screenwriter Jeff Buhler, Barker, and Kitamura’s worries. They have fashioned a bloody, thoughtless movie with a few deep thinking-points thrown in for good measure. The exercise is ripe in style and entirely watchable for its aesthetic values—colors pop off the screen and Foley sounds stun the senses—but it doesn’t have a real reason to exist. Based on what the filmmakers have put on the screen, Midnight Meat Train could have one of two possible purposes: 1) to play with different visual styles in violent, pulpy, fun ways or 2) to form a comment on the nature of cinematic violence. Both prove invalid throughout the movie. If Buhler, Barker, and Kitamura set out to achieve the first purpose, then they have done so, but such has only proved a fruitless motivation for making a film because it has been done better countless times before. If they wanted to achieve the second, then they have failed miserably as the movie stands only as a celebration of violence in its hyper-stylization of the material, not an external comment on the abundance of blood and guts seen in modern horror. Without solid footing on which to stand, Midnight Meat Train proves a rather empty picture.

     That Midnight Meat Train’s ripe premise is not approached in a more thoughtful manner is something of a shame, too, given that many of the pieces necessary for the movie’s success were in place. Even in the misfire of a film that currently stands, the acting is superb. In the lead role of photographer Leon Kauffman, Bradley Cooper provides his character as much nuance as the hollow script will allow. As the film progresses, we feel this man transforming in a visceral sort of way as he is tortured by the mounting evidence of the subway killer. Vinnie Jones also strikes a nerve through his mere presence as said killer, although it’s a shame the character isn’t provided the depth of, oh, Buffalo Bill. (One particular scene in which he smacks a victim in the head with a steel meat-hammer, only to show blood fleeing from the head in Kitamura’s self-indulgent slow-motion, really made me realize how much I wished I had been watching an entirely different take on the same story.) A similar feeling pervades when numerous supporting characters, particularly Leon’s girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb), appear onscreen and the actors are deprived of truly meaty material to sink their teeth into (no pun intended).

     At the end of the day, Midnight Meat Train ultimately represents only another cinematic misfire that could’ve been a success. As sorry as I am to see yet another story worth telling be told in the wrong way, such is commonplace in modern cinema and I’m accustomed to it. Kitamura has made a movie that may be moderately enjoyed for its visuals and performances—in fact, for the first half-hour, I was stimulated enough by these elements to ignore pressing flaws—but fails on nearly every other level. All told, there isn’t much groundbreaking material on display here, folks.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 7.28.2008

Screened on: The eve of 7.26.2008 at Midnight at the Reading Gaslamp 15 in San Diego, CA.


Midnight Meat Train is rated R and runs 98 minutes.

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