“John Wick” Movie Review

     Given their extensive background as stunt coordinators, it’s no surprise first time directing duo David Leitch and Chad Stahelski would churn out a film like “John Wick”, a thinly plotted exercise in over stylized martial arts mayhem and gunplay.  The set up in the film’s beginning moments is so glossed over and preposterous that one could only surmise the filmmakers elected to skip the story and get to the parts that allow them to show off their stunt wizardry.  There’s no doubt these guys do an effective job at constructing and choreographing their cast through a number of high end action sequences, but if you’ve seen “The Raid” or this year’s “The Raid: Redemption”, then you have already been treated to the high end of this type of fare, which is a level “John Wick” never really achieves.

     In the initial scenes, we meet John Wick, played by Keanu Reeves in a sort of return to the kind of roles he made famous in “The Matrix”, a now retired hit man who left to try his hand at married life.  Unfortunately, his wife has just died of cancer and we join him in his home as he grieves his loss.  Perhaps the ultra modern home he lives is in, devoid of anything that would make the home appear lived in, is a metaphor for the emptiness he is feeling.  With its uncovered floor to ceiling windows throughout, it’s a good thing Wick is an early riser since the sun comes flooding into his bedroom at 6:30AM.  The home reminds of De Niro’s seaside apartment in “Heat”, nary a signature touch so as to abide by the principles he lives by.  Some of the things that represent his former routine with his wife remain.  Two coffee cups sit side by side on the counter top next to the coffee maker, one of them presumably his wife’s. Without her, he seems to have lost his way, attempting to fill the emptiness by taking his vintage Mustang to an empty lot and speeding toward parked semi trucks, barely screeching to a stop inches from hitting them.

     A chance encounter with a wannabe Russian thug named Iosef Tarasov (“Game of Thrones” Alfie Allen) leads to a retaliation in which he and his goons break into Wick’s home at night and proceed to beat him up, kill his dog, and steal his car.  Apparently Iosef was too young to remember who his victim is.  Just four years prior, Wick worked as a hit man for Iosef’s father, Russian mob kingpin Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) and gained a sterling reputation as one of the best, earning the nickname “The Boogeyman”.  There’s no doubt men love their cars, especially those who would own and drive a mint condition vintage Mustang.  Along with the fact the dog was a gift from his dying wife, Wick now has reason to come out of retirement and hunt down his former employer’s son.  If you’re hoping for something more as far as the story goes, you’re in for some disappointment.  Leitch and Stahelski, along with screenwriter Derek Kolstad, blast through all of this in about 15 minutes, so as to get right to the real reason this film was made.

     The filmmakers create a number of situations that allow Wick to take on endless amounts of Russian adversaries, hit men, and various other baddies that simply get in the way.  Employing a type of “Gun-Fu” (similar to the Christian Bale film “Equilibrium) as his primary means of attack and defense, Wick takes on would be attackers in close quarters with a combination of effective striking, judo throws, and gun fire at point blank range.  No doubt, he’s good and as advertised.  He takes out bad guys with a razor sharp precision and rarely breaks a sweat doing it.  Pretty good for a guy who in real life is in his 50s!  Hollywood seems to be in love with putting these older action stars into rooms with a half dozen mean looking men also half their age and having these guys beat up, subdue, or kill them with literal ease.  “John Wick” is just another in a long line of films that have continued this trend, including the recent Denzel Washington vehicle “The Equalizer” and Liam Neeson’s “Taken” franchise which started it all.

     Of course, you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief a bit in order to sit back and accept a film like this.  The world in which it takes place is one where a hotel exists that is exclusive to hit men and has rules that disallow them from killing each other while on the premise.  It’s kind of a safe haven or rest stop between killing sprees.  A place where a doctor will come to your room and tend to your wounds while you recuperate and prepare for the next kill.  This is truly the stuff of comic books, but I was still surprised at how underdeveloped nearly every character was.  Such talented actors as Ian McShane and Willem Dafoe are underutilized  and their characters are left shrouded in mystery since the filmmakers never bother to let them indicate how they fit into the bigger picture.  Even Iosef, who functions as the catalyst for Wick’s return to his prior occupation, never really gives any reason for his actions, thus leaving us to assume he’s just a sociopath who gets everything he wants and will do so no matter what the cost.  When Leitch and Stahelski finally run dry and the action leaves the ultra cool light shows of high end nightclubs playing pulse pounding techno music, they let their film devolve in its final act with a rain soaked fight scene pitting Wick against Viggo.  It’s not hard to predict who wins the fight. GRADE: C