It’s become quite apparent that the only person who can bring the writing of Clive Barker to the movie screen with even a modicum of success is Clive Barker. With the only exception being Bernard Rose’s quite excellent Candyman, Barker’s works have stumbled their way onto screens with decidedly mixed results. They’re generally unable to capture the imagery and imagination of Barker’s prose and The Midnight Meat Train is a good example of this. It’s a movie that feels it necessary to pile on as much bloodshed as possible and tries its damndest to deliver the twist of the source material only to be constantly hamstrung by thin logic and a truly muddled and messy last third more concerned with fisticuffs and zombie-like beings than actual coherence, which is really too bad because director Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus) does bring some style to the proceedings.
Photographer Leon (Bradley Cooper) is trying to get his big break but ends up being told his work isn’t “real enough” by various critics. His search to capture the grittiness and energy of the city leads to him helping out the victim of a mugging by scaring off some thugs by using his camera as an eye witness. Things build from there as the girl he helps ends up slaughtered by a killer on the subway who has been committing all sorts of heinous murders the past few years. Leon sees this as an opportunity to get recognition for his art as he puts himself in the path of danger when he begins to stalk our stoic, well-dressed psychopath (Vinnie Jones) as he continues to butcher various victims using all forms of butcher tools he’s familiar with from his slaughterhouse job.
Jumping between scenes of Leon becoming more obsessed, some stylized grue including a pretty cool three person kill scene in which cult figure Ted Raimi (Evil Dead II) shows up as a victim, a confusing moment where our killer is cutting weird growth’s off his chest with a scalpel, and a chase scene set in the slaughterhouse that offers up some minor suspense. There’s also too many weak scenes of Leon’s relationship with girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb), a mid-section that spends too much time having Maya and their friend Jurgis (Roger Bart) sneaking around a hotel that doesn’t do anything but derail the flick’s pace, and a convoluted conspiracy the script throws out to get us to the ho-hum showdown.
Before becoming a pretty common household name this marked one of Cooper’s first starring roles and he’s fairly decent even though he’s struck being a character who, when it comes down to it, is pretty unlikeable and forced to do things a sensible person wouldn’t. Bibb is cute but really not given a lot to do but mostly look concerned. Bart, who stole the show in Hostel: Part II, is also pretty forgettable. We all know that in this type of flick it’s all about how imposing the villain is and, simply due to his outright size and hard look, Jones is perfectly suited to spend most of the movie carrying around a briefcase full of knives and tenderizers while lovingly (and in many lingering shots) removing teeth and eyeballs.
Given its sombre tone and Kitamura’s above average visuals I really wanted to enjoy The Midnight Meat Train more than I did. It starts off really strong and simply loses its way as they try to inject more plot than is probably necessary. Rather than it being a straight-forward killer thriller they’ve decided to take things in an entirely bizarre direction in the finale that just didn’t work for me. What played out perfectly well in Barker’s short story just didn’t translate here for me. There’s some decent gore effects on hand, a few horror moments that are staged decently, and it’s cool to see former teen idol Brooke Shields in a minor role but there just wasn’t enough (excuse me) “meat” for me to sink my teeth into. Granted, I can see this flick having its fans, but I’m not one of them.
Review based on unrated version. (Chris Hartley, 2/1/16)
Directed By: Ryuhei Kitamura.
Written By: Jeff Buhler.
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Vinnie Jones.