John Wick ✮✮✮
by Glenn Lovell
There’s a lot of talk about “the code” in the new Keanu Reeves vehicle “John Wick.” You can take that as a joke. The hired assassins at play here ‒ some of them homegrown, some of them Russian imports ‒ don’t begin to adhere to turf rules or any pledge of allegiance; their idea of honor is a savage kick to the jugular as they spray the room with hot lead.
We haven’t made a study of such things, but it’s just possible that this new action thriller contains more head shots (no, not 8×10 glossies) than any film on record. And that includes the entire oeuvre of Hong Kong’s John Woo.
All joking aside, “John Wick” is the best of its often sullied kind since “Eastern Promises” and the original “Taken.” It deals in nonstop mayhem, choreographed to a fare-thee-well by co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, the martial arts aces who taught Reeves and Brad Pitt to trade punches in “The Matrix” and “Fight Club.’’
Which is not to say that Leitch and Stahelski have taught the lugubrious Reeves to act: The star remain his old glassy-eyed, somnambulant self, showing even less aptitude for a signature comeback than Arnie S.
In this outing, Reeves stretches not at all to play the titular character, a former contract killer who, while still grieving for his dead wife, runs afoul of the son of a Russian Mafia boss, and exacts revenge many times over ‒ in his glass-paneled home, in the basement of an uptown disco, in a cathedral in Little Russia, in a hotel that caters to hired killers and is supposed to be a demilitarized zone.
And what sets Johnny-boy off? The theft of his supercharged vintage Mustang and the cruel clubbing of his beagle puppy, a posthumous gift from his late wife.
Yup, you’re right ‒ Peta disciples should eat this up. Never have so many humans paid the ultimate price for one adorable pooch.
Wick ‒ known as the Bogeyman by his associates ‒ vows vengeance on his former boss’s unruly son and along the way wipes out most of the Russian Mafia. “Let us not resort to our baser instincts,” the boss (Michael Nyqvist) beseeches before putting out a $3 million bounty on Wick. Among the takers are Wick’s old buddy Marcus (Willem Dafoe) and the devious Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), who would bring a smile to no less a connoisseur of such things as Quentin Tarantino.
If you were let down by the season’s earlier “The Equalizer” with Denzel Washington ‒ and who wasn’t? ‒ by all means check this one out. It’s as close to a pure adrenaline rush as you’re likely to find at the moment. Wick is a whiz at multitasking with knife, gun and garrote. Turning a home invasion into a massacre, he leaps into the air in slow-mo to dodge one assailant coming around a corner as he polishes off two others mid-flight. Forget the Bogeyman, this guy is the Baryshnikov of professional killers.
Expect an even more dogged “John Wick 2.”
JOHN WICK With Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan. Directed by David Leitch, Chad Stahelski; scripted by Derek Kolstad. 101 min. Rated R (for nonstop shooting, knifing, choking mayhem)