John Wick

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Release: Friday, October 24, 2014

[Theater]

Written by: Derek Kolstad

Directed by: Chad Stehelski; David Leitch

John Wick is yet another Keanu Reeves vehicle that operates much like an actual one would sans the steering wheel: basic things like moving straight ahead are possible but trying something fancy like taking a left-hand turn renders the driving clumsy and crashing into your mailbox more than just a possibility.

The metaphor’s more appropriate than I originally intended, for the man’s focus has seemingly shifted away from scantily-clad gothic chicks to slick and shiny muscle cars. No longer is there a need to dodge bullets when you can just hop into your Shelby GT-500 and drive away into the sunset and escape them in a more traditional manner.

This bullet-riddled, blood-stained adrenaline rush is less of a shot of adrenaline than it is a rush(-ed opportunity) to make Keanu appealing to a new generation. It’s pretty cool he’s being repurposed as a new kind of mainstream hero as this Equalizer-esque enigma who sticks to the shadows. And that he is making an apparent “return,” though it’s not all that clear where exactly it is that he went to. Have we forgotten Keanu, or something? That he is “back” is a slight misnomer as the sea of tired genre tropes rises to swallow his spirit yet again.

John Wick is long on killing and short on chilling. It’s “kick ass now and worry about the logistics (and physics) of it later. Or never.” While some may prefer it this way, the bludgeoning of bodies makes for a rather dull and predictable protagonist. When there’s this much space being cleared for its marquee name, the lack of thought elsewhere becomes an issue quickly. A revenge plot dipped into a pool of malice, brooding spite and admittedly gorgeous cinematography, the film’s ambitions can be sniffed out from the opening shot. John Wick is very, very basic and its vignettes too easy to predict.

At the risk of contradicting myself, I’ll dare to say simplicity is a part of its appeal as well. Narrative clutter you will not find in these 140 minutes.

Co-directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski (the latter performed stunts in the über-spoof comedy Kung Pow: Enter the Fist!) strip the number of players down to the bare necessities. Top-billed are essentially Wick, his dog (he at least should be, he does some damn fine acting) and a bunch of aggressive foreign enemies duking it out amidst a heavily-stylized urban jungle of decay and disillusion. There’s an almost romantic quality to the beauty in each frame though the jury’s still out on whether this is necessarily the best-looking martial arts film of the year. The choreography of the brutal martial arts sequences should contribute mightily to the likelihood of this receiving some sort of recognition, although The Raid 2: Berendal probably would like to have final say on that.

As a final grievance, while Keanu’s blandness suits the dejectedness of this character it’s the character that ultimately feels out of sync with his environs. He moves in and out of this place, as well as the second-rate story, with too much ease and nonchalance. He’s Robert McCall, only he might enjoy life a little more. John Wick’s a character packaged as a Neo look-alike — a neo-Neo, if you will — but there is one glaring difference between the Keanu the Wachowski’s basically invented before the turn of the millennium and the one we get in 2014. And that’s novelty.

Unfortunately Neo saw Zion first. The One will forever cast a great big shadow, unless something truly compelling is yet to come along still, of course. I thought this would be close, but no. No cigar. An at-times tongue-in-cheek throwback to Neo’s capabilities this may be, but it is frequently more generic and stilted than clever or nostalgic.

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2-5Recommendation: There are parts that work and a lot more that do not for “The Boogey Man” (those awkwardly inserted subtitles are hugely distracting, as another example.) As an original bit of film this fails but as an entertaining hour and a half at the movies you could do a lot worse. Fans of Keanu will more than likely be impressed with his commitment to the craft this time; there’s no denying he is more on his game here. Precisely why those expecting a story to match his intensity will be so exasperated.

Rated: R

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “Yeah, I’m thinkin’ I’m back. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com