Starring: Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones, Leslie Bibb, Roger Bart, Brooke Shields
The version being reviewed is unrated. For the record, the theatrical cut is rated R for Sequences of Strong Bloody Gruesome Violence, Grisly Images involving Nudity, Sexual Content and Language
"The Midnight Meat Train" starts out strong, but begins to lose its way around the halfway mark and continues to fall. The film is by no means a waste of time, but I can't help but wish that director Ryuhei Kitamura could have sustained the tension that he constructs early on in the film.
Leon (Cooper) is an amateur photographer looking for his big break. His goal is to capture the heart of the city, but as an art dealer (Shields) tells him, he's only scratching the surface. She tells him that when he finds something that makes him tense, he should keep shooting. He takes that to heart that night. A girl on the subway is being harassed by a group of thugs, and while he initially takes pictures of it, he saves her. The next day, she's found brutally murdered. When a cop that he takes the story to (Barbara Eve Harris) doesn't seem to care, he does some investigating on his own. It turns out that people who take the 2 am train end up being on the wrong end of a brutal serial killer (Jones). Leon realizes that he's the only one who can take down the madman.
The theatrical trailer proclaims that "The Midnight Meat Train" is from "visionary director Ryuhei Kitamura." Usually such proclamations are little more than a marketing tool. Not so here. Kitamura creates some truly awesome visual effects and camera tricks. More importantly, they get the effect that he desires. If they tread a little too close to showing off, well, it's worth it anyway.
Bradley Cooper is solid as the everyman. The writing doesn't allow him the opportunity to show what he can do, but he's an effective anchor for the audience. The best I can say about Vinnie Jones is that he has screen presence, although he lacks true menace. If you want to see someone who can chill you simply by being onscreen, look no further than Greg Dunham as Bone in "The Lookout." He was creepy without saying a word. Jones doesn't reach that level. Leslie Bibb is cute as Leon's girlfriend Maya, but doesn't show much in the way of ability.
One interesting issue that is raised is the line between art and morality. At what point does the responsibility to help a victim surpass the needs of his art? It's an interesting question and while too little is down with it, it did get me thinking.
If Kitamura had been able to sustain the interest and tension of the first half, I'd be giving it a solid recommendation. Sadly, the screenplay is in desperate need of some rewrites. Editing problems don't help matters, but the plot is full of wholes that it seems less interested in plugging as the film goes on.
Still, gorehounds and undemanding horror aficionados will find something of value here. Everyone else might want to give this one a pass.