(Dirs. David Leitch & Chad Stahelski, 2014)
About a third of the way into this film, there’s a phone conversation between John Leguizamo as a chop shop operator and Michael Nyqvist as a big-time Russian crime boss. Nyqvist sternly asks Lequizamo, “Why did you strike my son?” and he answers: “Because he stole John Wick’s car and killed his dog.” After a very pregnant pause, Nyqvist responds “Oh.”
Up to that point, JOHN WICK had been a dark action thriller, but with the big laugh that bit received it became a dark action comedy, especially to a guy in the row behind me at the screening I attended, who loudly guffawed throughout. He wasn’t alone as the audience laughed lot during the movie, so much so that I wasn’t sure how much of what they found funny was intentional or not.
Basically, this is another in a line of indestructible badass movies, in which an established actor portrays a highly skilled, trained killer who can take down legions of attackers. It’s a formula that’s given Liam Neeson a lot of work lately, and gave Denzel Washington a recent hit in THE EQUALIZER, so now Keanu Reeves tries on the tropes of the genre.
The directorial debut of veteran stuntman David Leitch and Chad Stahelski (a former stunt double for Reeves), JOHN WICK doesn’t have much in the way of plot, but it’s a stylishly violent experience that contains a Hell of a lot of amusement.
When the film begins, Reeves, a retired hit-man for the mob, is mourning the death of his wife, who we see played by Bridget Moynahan in flashbacks. Her parting gift for her husband is a cute floppy eared beagle so that he can have something to love. So when a group of lowlife thugs led by a suitably skuzzy Alfie Allen, as the aforementioned crime boss’s son, breaks into Reeves’ house, kills his beloved pet, and steals his classic Mustang muscle car, obviously there’s going to be hell to pay.
With a sledgehammer Reeves digs up his buried arsenal of weapons, and ventures into New York City, to track down Allen and his entourage. Reeves checks into The Continental, something of a surreal specialty hotel for hitmen, where we get an inkling of his old life via past acquaintances like Adrianne Palicki as a hot hitwoman, The Wire’s Lance Riddick as the smirking hotel manager, and Ian McShane as the hotel’s smug owner.
Fearing his son’s life, Nyqvist takes out a contract on Reeves that’s accepted by Willem Dafoe, as another highly skilled and incredibly confident assassin, and the hunt is on.
Chasing Allen through an exotic bathhouse, a Neon-lit club, and a church that's a money-laundering front, Reeves racks up a high body count on his quest for revenge with many foes getting their brains blown out immediately, but every now and then there’s somebody who’s harder to take out so fierce fist fights to the death result. Of course, there’s tons of property damage too.
Some of the tussles get tiresome, but the pace keeps it moving along with vivid visual stamina, though I must note that Jonathan Sela’s grey-toned cinematography looked a bit dingy at times.
These days it seems you can’t be too old to be an action star, and since the 50-year old Reeves looks like a spring chicken compared to some of his action genre contemporaries he breathes some fresh air into the familiar framework. Sure, he’s not one of the all-time acting greats but he projects an iconic presence that helps make JOHN WICK one of the better, and funnier, indestructible badass films of recent vintage.