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Saturday, October 25, 2014

John Wick 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

John WickDirectors: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe

Liam Neeson has a special set of skills and now it appears that Keanu "whoa" Reeves has them too. So OK, picture this: Guy loses wife to illness, guy gets dog as a present from dying wife, guy then gets beautiful Mustang stolen by Russian mobsters who beat said dog to death, guy who was once a professional killer, goes into vengeance mode by offing tons of paperweight Russkie heavies, and finally, guy gets visited by police officer (at his home) who asks him if he's working again, huh? That guy is John Wick of the movie John Wick and he's played by none other than thespian in hiding, Reeves. "Wick" clocks in as the fourth revenge/hitman thriller to venture into theaters circa 2014. It lacks the startling epiphany of August's The November Man and the high caliber of acting from a certain Denzel Washington in The Equalizer. However, it's much more focused and assured than the totally discombobulated 3 Days to Kill (the weakest of the four).

For the most part, John Wick is a silly, ludicrous picture that doesn't really add anything new or reinvent the wheel via the revenge thriller genre. Its look is mirrorball glitter and glitz and its style is reminiscent of a Hong Kong action extravaganza (but with less "Kong" and tons of "ganza"). This is a vehicle where Keanu's Wick dispatches so many bad guys you lose count within the first half hour. He does it with some impressive martial arts (much more polished and realistic than what he did in The Matrix) and guns that suggest laser tag, video game artistry, and Men In Black (I wasn't the only critic who picked up on this). As you watch John Wick, you don't condemn it, but you wonder how it didn't somehow land in the straight-to-DVD category. Basically, the whole point with this October release is that the filmmakers throw in scene after scene of non-stop death and destruction. It's to distract you from realizing how generic and tepid it is.

So OK, here are some things I pondered while viewing this bad boy with an undernourished 101 minute running time: 1. why doesn't anybody in this movie bother to wear a bulletproof vest? I mean Wick shoots a lot of his enemies in the chest. This might bring down the body count a little. 2. why does the antagonist (in this case, Viggo Tarasov played by Michael Nyqvist) not shoot the protagonist when he's defenseless and without weapon? You know he's gonna eventually get ya in the end if you let him live. Jeez! 3. do the lives of 50+ people have to end just because a dog died? I mean, I know the dog was Wick's last gift that reminded him of his dead wife but come on! He knew Daisy (dog's name) for one or two sequences, that's it. And yet, just about everyone that wasn't involved in Daisy's passing gets the death incarnate treatment. In general, I can't help but thinking that John Wick is trying to be a parody of your everyday vindictive, revenge fare. When Wick says the Russian gangsters took everything from him, I guess he left out the fact that he still has his beautiful home, expensive, tailor made suits, and plenty of discretionary wealth.

In conclusion, this thing is mildly mediocre but I found the lead role of a former, humblized contract killer to be a nice fit for Keanu Reeves. He's one of those actors that is better off saying the bare minimum of dialogue in order to get through a movie. His job here is to look cool, act cool, and basically exude a brooding screen presence. In his 42nd feature film, he pulls it off with veritable aplomb.

During the second half of John Wick, Keanu's title character says quote unquote, "people keep asking if I'm back, yeah I'm thinking I'm back." Not entirely Mr. cool breeze. But nice try though. You're getting there.

Of note: In terms of John Wick's stylistic voyeurism, look for a dance club scene where Reeves gets his kill-on Tom Cruise style (a la 2004's Collateral). Also, look for various subtitles in "Wick" that seem akin to the ones used in Tony Scott's Man on Fire (also from 2004). In the realm of casting, be on the lookout for three high profile actors whose roles are underdeveloped (with most of their scenes probably left on the cutting room floor). John Leguizamo plays a chop shop owner, Willem Dafoe plays a fellow hitman and friend of Wick's character, and Bridget Moynahan plays Wick's character's wife. Oh and watch for the goofy guy from the Allstate commercials (Dean Winters, you know Mr. Mayhem) in a small role as the main villain's fruitful lackey.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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