The Night Train!

It’s late Christmas Eve somewhere in eastern Europe (oh, wait, this is supposed to be America. Sorry) where a train is plowing down snowy tracks. Aboard are Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski, a salesman and med student respectively, who are headed home for the holidays. Also aboard is Danny Glover, the conductor of this soon-to-be-decommissioned engine. Just as the train is about to leave the station a man rushes aboard without paying.

A few minutes later, when Danny goes back to collect the man’s money, he, along with LL and Steve, discover that the man is dead! And that he had a box full of precious jewels on him!

That’s right, it’s one of those movies. Where the strangers try to decide whether to keep money and cover up a death or blah blah Shallow Grave blah.

After the characters are suspiciously coy in their discussion about what’s in the box, they decide to get rid of the body and keep the box. Which entails them having to sneak the body past all the train’s passengers in order to get to the luggage car. But why are they going to the luggage car? We’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let’s take a look at one of the people they pass on the way:

Am I not supposed to know this is a dude in drag? Is it supposed to be a surprise later? Because you’ve got to do a much better job than that with the makeup and costuming. Or, I don’t know, maybe not hire an actor so prone to five O’Clock shadow?

So they arrive at the luggage car, and explain the plan – they’re going to put him in a trunk and toss it out of a train when they cross a bridge. But then they’re stymied when the body is too big for even their biggest trunk? Whatever can they do? LL has an answer: Chop up the body with a cleaver.

Wow. Okay… here’s a hint, guys. If you want to get rid of a body and you’ve decided to throw it into a river, what do you think is gained by putting it in a trunk? If a body shows up in a river, there are three possible reasons it got there. It was suicide, an accident, or murder. If you put that body in a trunk, there’s only one possible conclusion that can be drawn: Murder. If you want to make it look like a murder, you might as well just toss it off the train wherever, but since you’ve already decided to go with the river, why are you going to so much trouble to make things look all the more suspicious?

During the whole ‘tossing a trunk off the train’ fiasco Steve and Danny wind up locked outside in the bitter cold – which makes me wonder why none of these characters have winter coats. Sure, they’re not going to be wearing them on the train, but one you know you’re going to be heading out to dump a body, why not put it on?

LL proves herself to be the evil one of the group by leaving them out there to freeze, but they’re saved anyway when Danny comes jumping in from the roof, covered in what is completely not snow.

Wow, is that so not snow.

They finally make it to the next station, and oh, Christ, I can’t believe what just happened. I got to the 43 minute mark and a fat guy boarded the train to meet his friend… Joel Cairo!

Look, we all know what your movie is referencing, okay? We’ve all seen a whole bunch of movies where people put near a thing of value start to scheme and double cross one another to get it all for themselves, only to ironically lose it at the end when turns out to not be real. Hell, Bogart was in two different movies that fit that description pretty darn well.

What exactly do you think you’re accomplishing by out-and-out referencing the fact? Did you really make a whole movie in an attempt to prove to other people that you’ve seen the Maltese Falcon?

Yeah, the fat guy announces that his name is Gutman. Yikes. At least he manages to move the plot forward, cornering Danny, Steve, and LL in the back car and pointing a gun at them. He finally drops the big secret – it’s not a box full of gems at all… it’s a box full of evil!

Naturally, they don’t immediately believe Gutman when he talks about the evil magic box, despite the fact that it wasn’t scratched when hit with a hammer, despite being made of wood. You know, if they’d just made the prop out of a metal, this wouldn’t have been a problem of plausibility, because the characters could have believed for a moment that it might not be magic, but just extremely well-made.

There’s a struggle, Gutman winds up dead, and despite the fact that they’ve revealed that each of them saw a different kind of gem (other than LL, who may have just seen ‘evil’, and been okay with that) in the box, they don’t immediately try to figure out how to destroy the thing.

Suddenly the train is emergency-stopped by the police, who were called by ice fishermen who were almost hit by the trunk when it hit the ice they were fishing on. It seems that the trunk broke open when it hit the ice, and body parts came out.

What ice?

Meanwhile, Leelee is trying to convince Zahn to run off with her and the money, cutting out Danny Glover. And all I can think is-

Wow, she really does look like Helen Hunt. Then they begin making out, finally paying off that long-simmering sexual tension from Joy Ride.

Now things move a little more quickly – in interviews, Danny and LL blame Steve for the dismemberment of Joel Cairo, and then once things have calmed down some, LL decides it’s time to bump off Steve in the most preposterous way possible.

Yup, she tapes the gaps in the door shut, and secures it in no other meaningful way. Then she walks to the bar car to mention this to Danny, who immediately tries to save Zahn – but it’s too late! The five minutes he spent in that sealed compartment have done him in!

So twenty minutes in a barely sealed compartment and Zahn suffocated? Really? How did he not just break out? Here’s how Danny opens the door. He undoes a single brass latch on the right side of the bed-

And then the panel flops down on its own, despite the tape-

That’s right – Zahn also had gravity on his side. Was the panel locked in place? Sure. But only using a latch designed to keep it from falling open because of the vibrations of the train. There’s no way that latch could withstand even light impacts from inside.

With the game revealed, everyone starts killing each other – and I mean everyone. It turns out that, outside of our main cast, every single person on the train was there to grab the box of evil. It occurs to me that there are better places to exchange dangerous, sought-after items than a moving train. Yes, it does offer a modicum of privacy, but if other people want the item as well, and bring guns along, it’s not like there’s anywhere you can hide.

Everyone shoots each other except for Danny and LL. Oh, look, the guy in drag revealed that he was a guy in drag and was shot to death half a second later. So why pretend to be a woman at all? All that’s left is for Danny to separate the back cars from the out-of-control engine, and let LL fall to her death attempting to grab the box as it falls onto the tracks.

Then it’s on to the incredibly cliched ending, with Danny failing to destroy the box just before freezing to death, and what’s worse, never revealing exactly what was inside of it, beyond the fact that it glows.

In Kiss Me Deadly, that worked because radium glows. In Repo Man, that worked because it suggested that the alien force was unknowable by human minds. In Pulp Fiction, that worked because it was referencing Kiss Me Deadly. Here it just looks like they’re putting on airs.

The biggest problem is that the film never makes it clear why anyone would want the thing. It’s never shown to have any ability other than to make people see wealth (or evil) inside of it, and it’s supposedly cursed so that anyone who looks inside of it will die before the next sunrise. So why exactly is everyone trying so hard to get their hands on it? Who knows – we’re just supposed to take it on faith that it’s ‘valuable’ to them, and that’s it.

It’s not like the box was some magical, unimaginable thing. Every single character on the train other than the main cast seemed to know exactly what it was, it’s just that none of them bothered to mention it to anyone.


(Fun Fact – The film’s second unit was directed by friend-of-the-castle Luca Berkovici! He also played the role of ‘Man’, although I did not spot him, largely because I do not know what he looks like.)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

this movie sucks! Why not "write" a real plot and use imgination to devise a plot that has substance. Instead they use this empty and cheap method to develop a movie.

Give me 10 days, I can write a better plot for this story.