By James Hancock Oct 29th, 2014
For those of you whose life is not complete without the occasional Keanu Reeves action movie, Keanu is back in “John Wick”, an action movie that soars about as often as it stumbles. Keanu plays John Wick, a retired killer-for-hire who lives in what feels like a parallel universe where gangsters and hitmen wield nearly limitless power as part of a vast secret society living the good life in the underworld of New York. After some Russian thugs steal John Wick’s car and murder his puppy, Wick comes out of retirement in order to wreak havoc on everyone associated with the men responsible. This is not a superhero movie but it might as well be and when John Wick or any of his peers get into the mood to kill people, they are capable of laying waste to vast armies of trained thugs in a ballet of riveting death dealing. This is the debut feature film directed by expert stuntmen David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, who appear to have worked on just about every movie featuring a fight or stunt from the last twenty years. To their credit they deliver some of the best choreographed shoot outs since John Woo’s “The Killer” (1989). The flip side is that the storytelling is incredibly inconsistent often holding this film back from being the action gem it might have been.
If all someone wants to see in this movie are some great action scenes, stop reading, go see the flick, you will not be disappointed. But the action is not the full story when it comes to this movie in that the screenwriter Derek Kolstad was clearly trying to accomplish something more. He very nearly succeeds at elevating this movie above the generic world of interchangeable action movies, but unfortunately falls short. As I stated above, the world in which this story takes place is very deliberately not one governed by reality. In this world, killers-for-hire played by the likes of Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe, & Adrianne Palicki live like supermodel celebrities and are capable of superhuman feats of agility, accuracy and resourcefulness that basically make them impossible to kill except for when faced by others in their profession. They have their own currency of gold coins and a very specific code that governs their behavior. When not on assignment they hang out at an ultra luxury hotel that functions as a no-kill zone where all their professional and personal needs can be met provided the gold coins continue to flow. At times, this world is a fascinating place filled with glamor and intrigue. The movie fails when the story disobeys its own rules that it works so hard to establish. After establishing that Keanu, Willem and Adrianne are indestructible gods of death, there are a variety of scenes where the leading characters inexplicably become morons, amateurs and quite fragile. The sudden changes in tone and style are incredibly jarring and irritating, completely taking me out of the movie on multiple occasions. It is a shame really. The filmmakers very nearly pulled off something new and original in a genre that is too often stale and derivative. That said, I genuinely hope that Stahelski and Leitch remain in their new roles as directors. They could easily deliver a “Deadpool” movie that would make every comic book geek jump out of their skins with excitement to see.
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