John Wick (2014) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Running Time: 96 min.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, Daniel Bernhardt
Small role: Bridget Moynahan, Kevin Nash, Jason Isaacs
Director: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski
Screenplay: Derek Kolstad
Review published October 25, 2014
John Wick (Reeves, Man of Tai Chi) is a retired underworld assassin in NYC who re-enters the fray five years after leaving the life behind to marry his beloved Helen (Moynahan, Battle Los Angeles) when his prized classic 1969 Mustang is stolen and beagle pup is killed at the hands of Iosef (Allen, Game of Thrones"), the son of his former boss, a ruthless Russian gangster named Viggo (Nyqvist, Europa Report). You see, the dog, dubbed Daisy, is a posthumous gift left to him from his recently deceased, cancer-stricken wife as an effort to get him on the road to love someone, or something, again. Viggo is incensed, knowing that John Wick is perhaps the most dangerous man alive -- the man you hire to take down the proverbial Boogeyman -- and he will not be appeased until he gets his revenge on Iosef. With a $2 million bounty placed on his head, Wick is a force for retribution that is going to take an underworld army to bring down.
Veteran stunt coordinators David Leitch and Chad Stahelski (who was often Reeves' stunt double) take a turn as directors for the first time and deliver a wildly mixed bag that sees some great action sequences dispersed throughout a cartoonish and underserved story. An odd, fetish-y mix of the kinetic energy of Kick-Ass and the off-the-wall, gold coin-fueled underworld subculture found in Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, John Wick is a slick action piece that certainly has some captivating elements that almost allows the film to transcend Derek Kolstad's cliché-ridden screenplay's pulp comic book inspirations.
You'd expect the stunts to be impressive, as they are, but the fight choreography isn't as fun, with most of the action feeling like we're watching a third-person shooter in demo mode, complete with over-abundant kill-shots to the head. And the high kill count won't seem so bad when you have characters this annoying and poorly accented, making viewers almost wish Wick would toss the gun to us in the audience to have enjoyment getting rid of some of the worst examples of live-action cartoon buffoonery ourselves, with Adrianne Palicki's (GI Joe: Retaliation) Ms. Perkins being the worst of a noisome bunch.
John Wick is an economical exploitation movie that will no doubt please those who love action flicks for stylish aesthetics (those who think fancy use of bold words in subtitles equals more excitement) over a good story or interesting characterizations. It's a bit of a throwback to the films of the 1990s, a la The Crow (coincidentally, director Stahelski also subbed for Brandon Lee after his untimely demise in the making of that film) and Payback, and a host of Asian classics by John Woo and his disciples, but with a more modern score and pacing. Everything is thin and economical, which may be seen by some as a virtue in this year of actioners pushing well past the two-hour mark for lesser results.
Reeves proves he still has the right look to be a cinema star, even if his acting isn't much better than when we first met him. That his film is tempered with moments of intentional (if hammily delivered) offbeat levity in its sparse repartee is nearly a saving grace, but for my money, I'd rather be the one controlling the console game this film was so clearly meant to be than in watching someone else call all of the (head-)shots.
©2014 Vince Leo