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John Wick Review: Face-Shootings are Apparently In

John Wick combines slick action, perfectly-placed humor, and a puppy. Go figure.
In John Wick, Keanu Reeves plays a cold-blooded hitman whose world is turned upside down when a trio of Russian mobsters destroy the one connection to his deceased wife. The action flick - directed by stuntmen Chad Stahelski and David Leitch - takes Wick on a vicious killing spree, as he systematically eliminates his enemies all the way to the top dog Viggo Tarasov, played by Michael Nyqvist. Along the way, Wick will renew old acquaintances, like fellow assassin Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) and former partner Marcus (Willem Dafoe). As he works his way to the top, Wick becomes the irresistible force to Tarasov's immovable object, taking us full circle to the movie's disturbing opening.

Having zero expectations, I found Wick to be completely enjoyable. The action is fluid, the car stunts well-conceived, the humor perfectly placed. For two guys who never sat in the center chair other than to perform Second Unit duties - such as 300, The Bourne trilogy and Ninja Assasins - Stahelski and Leitch hit a solid triple in their first at-bat. Interior shots are gorgeous and well-apportioned, while outdoor stunts are carried off with tight enough action to show us the whole production without losing where the camera should be: right on Wick. And what a wrecking machine he is, whether it's whacking a hit team that descends on his home or the long line of suits who line up to be his next fodder.

Writer Derek Kolstad fashions a clever, funny, and confident script that never takes itself too seriously yet is happy to ride the line between sympathetic emotion and decadent violence. Humor abounds, as does one of the best efforts at universe building I've seen in 2014. This appreciation arrives not only in the form of a fabricated coinage system that fellow assassins and their minions employ, but an entire hotel existing specifically for these killers to stay and luxuriate between jobs. I can't make this up: when Wick calls an unknown number for "dinner for 12" he's really saying "I just killed 12 men and I need it cleaned up." Enter Dreamscape's David Patrick Kelly, who plays the film's version of Harvey Keitel's The Wolf from Pulp Fiction.

And yet, there are serious plot holes that I can't ignore. The ending is a total letdown, as if Leitch and Staheski bent to test audience reaction of the film's dark tone being too much. While I won't ruin it for you, the end does undo much of what is built, placing Wick in a position that reduces the story's dark tone to a positive and hopeful one. The action - while totally fun - doesn't hit high gear too often, relying on face shootings (never a problem in my book) and well-coordinated but ultimately lacking stunts. There are a few sequences though - one between Reeves and Palicki - that are memorable, which should keep audiences interested.

But there is much to like here as well, such as the pseduo-cameo appearances of Ian McShane as the leader/president of the assassin's guild and Lance Reddick as the hotel manager. Again, dry humor runs as a ribbon throughout John Wick, providing needed moments of levity into which Reeves perfectly inserts himself. There's also a definite 70's feel to things, from Wick's cool Mustang Fastback to the speakeasy at the bottom of hotel. Reeves plays Wick as the absolute master of his domain, literally placing fear in everyone who knows of him. When that sleeping giant is released, no one is safe

John Wick is surprisingly entertaining, even if its ending is disappointing. The film does nothing new for the genre, but that's not why we're here. Keanu is solid and his supporting cast will give audiences plenty to talk about when the lights come up. Wick is right up his alley and we're the better for it, even if we've been down that darkened road before.

John Wick is Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use and has a runtime of 101 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

Comments

A perfect role for Keanu Reeves, whose deadpan delivery makes the most of the surprisingly amusing script.

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