Starring Keanu Reeves and Alfie Allen
Cinemark 20 showtimes: 3:45, 5:05, 6:25, 7:45, 9:05 and 10:15 p.m.
“People keep asking me if I’m back,” says Keanu Reeves’ titular character in the third act of “John Wick.” “Yeah, I’m thinkin’ I’m back.” It’s as much a comment on Reeves’ career as the start of a chaotic conclusion to his most recent film.
One could make the argument that Reeves hasn’t made a quality flick since 1999’s “The Matrix,” and one wouldn’t have to be captain of the debate team to make it persuasively. But after 15 years of wandering in the wasteland, Reeves is back to the one thing he does really, really well: popcorn action.
“John Wick” tells the story of a one-time mob assassin. After burying his wife following a battle with an unnamed illness, the now-retired Wick resigns himself to a life of mournful solitude. Until, that is, a final gift from his wife shows up at his door: a beagle pup named Daisy, along with a card from his wife telling him he needs to “love something.”
None of us would be here if that’s what happened, though.
Enter Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), as Iosef Tarasov, the petulant, wanna-be thug son of the local crime boss. After a chance meeting with Wick at a gas station where he takes a liking to Wick’s ‘69 Mustang, Tarasov tracks Wick to his home, beats him up, steals his car, and kills his puppy.
That’s it. In 25 minutes of feather-light exposition and back story, writer Derek Kolstad and director Chad Stahelski have given Wick — and the audience — all the reason they need for the rest of the film to unfold. From there, a revenge-bound Wick jumps back into the killing game, taking down hoards of mob thugs in a stylized take on the Korean “assassin genre” flick. There’s an intriguing, though barely fleshed-out sub plot about a whole assassin-catering hotel, some nice world-building done through tertiary characters, and just enough guns and muscle cars to keep everyone interested.
The whole “anti-hero on a rampage for silly reasons” idea has been done before (and arguably done with more charisma in Mel Gibson’s “Payback”), but rarely has it been done this slickly. “John Wick” has an adrenalin-pumping soundtrack, a constant barrage of action and some of the best choreographed gun fights since 2002’s “Equilibrium.”
But the element that puts everything together and makes the whole enterprise work as entertainment is its humor. “John Wick” is not a film that takes itself completely seriously. That’s the best possible thing for it, because we’re basically watching a ridiculous set of events unfold for ridiculous reasons, and making that seem serious and realistic is a task that’s difficult for the best actors to pull off, and nearly impossible for someone with Reeves’ skill set. So “John Wick” is infused with just enough self-awareness to keep things light. There’s no fourth wall breaking or anything so cliched, but there are definite moments when the filmmakers are willing to take a step back, acknowledge the absurdity of everything that’s happening, then get back to the business at hand.
For everything the film does well — good humor, nice pacing and fight scenes that can only be adequately described as “elegant” — there are some missteps. Reeves continues to have next to no range, which makes the scenes where he’s required to actually show emotion awkward. Also, almost all of the secondary characters, most notably Ian McShane (“Deadwood”), Adrianne Palicki (“GI Joe: Retaliation”) and Dean Winters (the “Mayhem” guy from those Allstate commercials), affect the plot in no meaningful way, rendering them frustratingly useless set pieces. CV