JOHN WICK review by Gary Murray – Keanu Reeves stars in a bloody revenge flick

JOHN WICK review by Gary Murray – Keanu Reeves stars in a bloody revenge flick

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Anyone up for a good revenge flick? Keanu Reeves has been a bankable actor for a few decades now. Some of his notable films have included Point Break, Speed and The Matrix series. Lately, his star has been slipping from the Hollywood sky with roles that have not generated that much box office or critical appeal. In John Wick, he goes back to his action roots and leaves a river of blood in his path.

The film starts with an SUV slowly bumping into a barricade. Out stumbles John Wick (Keanu Reeves), bruised, bloody and beaten. Then the film goes back to the beginning. There is a funeral and John is burying his wife. His buddy Marcus (Willem Dafoe) pays his condolences. The next day a delivery arrives containing an adorable puppy – a final gift from his wife. It is something for him to love and to help him get on with his life.

John has a classic car that draws the attention of a young gangster Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen). He and two other thugs break into John’s house, stealing his car and killing his dog. They take the car to a chop shop run by Aureilo (John Leguizamo), who instantly recognizes the car and punches Iosef. It seems that Iosef has stolen the car of one of the most methodical retired assassins of the underworld. Aureilo calls the thug’s father and crime syndicate boss Viggo (Michael Nqvist), who once employed Wick. Their agreement to stay out of each other’s lives has now been broken.

Viggo sends 12 men to take out John. In the first of many murderous melees, John disposes of all the men and begins preparations for war with the mafia. An exclusive hit is put out on John, and a contract is given to Marcus by Viggo, since he and Wick have a strong connection. It seems that Marcus is a fellow assassin. The film is the methodical hunt for Iosef and the protection by Viggo. Much like a shark who senses blood, John Wick is single-minded in attacking his prey.

This is a very strange world where everyone from cops to bellboys know John Wick and have no problem with his destructive nature. Much like the Roger Moore version of James Bond, he is a secret killer that every working stiff knows on a first name basis. It is a silly premise that requires a willing suspension of disbelief. For some reason, John checks into a hotel for a base of operation. The hotel is a neutral zone and run by Winston (Ian McShane), who allows no nefarious business to take place in his establishment. One patron Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) has other ideas.

With a film like this one, everyone knows exactly what is going to happen. The third act is going to be the killing of all the principal characters and before that finale dozens of henchmen will have to meet their maker. One hundred dead humans for one dead puppy is the kind of math that only PETA would applaud, but nothing in this film is taken very seriously. It is wish fulfillment fantasy with a Kill Bill edge.

Keanu Reeves needs a major box office hit and John Wick should both raise his box office clout and fill his vault. This is the kind of film that drives audiences to the theaters and eventually to the DVD rental boxes. He plays this stoic warrior with perfection, the kind of guy who we should be rooting against but are rooting for. He pays for the services he needs in gold and probably says no more than about fifteen words in 90 minutes. It is the kind of role that Steve McQueen made famous.

The film is very much a one-man show with every other person more like cannon fodder than characters. Ian McShane and Willem Dafoe are given what are basically overblown cameos. The truly stand-out performance was by Adrianne Palicki as Ms. Perkins. She tries to cash in on the contract and finds out what a serious hand-to-hand combat artist our man John Wick can be. It is another thrilling moment in the screenplay.

The film is co-directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. They keep a strong and steady pace while plowing through a screenplay by Derek Kolstad. Though the story is very simple, the execution of the action sequences is complex. Much like the romantic comedy, the revenge film is not so much about the outcome of the plot but the journey to get there. We know what is going to happen in the end, the fun is how the audience and characters get there. In the end, John Wick is an over-the-top bit of action fluff that will thrill the intended audience. It is much more of a crowd pleaser than an award winning bit of cinema… a check-your-brain at the door action set piece.

JOHN WICK opens October 24, 2014

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