Friday, November 7, 2014
Dir. Chad Stahelski
2 out of 5
Keanu Reeves is 50 years old. Let that sink in for a moment. One of the most convincing things in John Wick - and there are not many of those - is that, unlike his generational peers in the "angry middle-aged man" subgenre of revenge films, Reeves doesn't look that far removed from his physical peak. When the filmmakers identify the titular John Wick as a recently-retired enforcer and assassin for various criminal types, they truly mean it. There's barely even enough time for dust to collect on Wick's hidden stash of firearms, which he’s gone to the trouble of burying under thick concrete in his garage, presumably so he can look even manlier by smashing his way to them with a sledgehammer.
Wick begins the movie in standard lone grey wolf mode, grieving the loss of a loved one - his deceased wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan) - and giving the side-eye to the local criminal element, namely the petulant son (Alfie Allen) of a powerful boss (Michael Nyqvist) in New York's Russian mafia. The young man foolishly and pointlessly provokes Wick by attacking the talismans of his masculinity - stealing his vintage sports car and killing the dog gifted to him by Helen - before scurrying back to the city. At this point, the unfolding of the typical DGAF fantasy begins, with Wick pursuing bloody justice against every Slavic thug in the five boroughs.
The over-the-hill avenger with nothing to lose is a simple gimmick with immense staying power (just ask Charles Bronson), but most attempts to achieve an adult gravitas in this inherently juvenile species of film almost always rest exclusively on the casting of wily veterans. John Wick understands this, tossing names like Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, and Dean Winters into supporting roles. Yet even this stellar cast can't help a script read like anything more than a third-rate James Bond movie plagued by wooden dialogue impatiently stuffed in between action sequences.
The director, Chad Stahelski, and his producer, David Leitch, are better known for their top-notch stunt work in a variety of Hollywood blockbusters, and that's apparent in John Wick's many well-choreographed and visually coherent rumbles. It's just too bad that everything else is a contrived mess, from the intricately connected backstories that ultimately don't matter to the swank Manhattan hotel that caters exclusively to visiting assassins and looks like a clone of the Flatiron Building. John Wick undoubtedly can and even should have an audience - competently shot and edited action can't be ignored in an increasingly cacophonous era - but Stahelski just doesn't hit the right notes for a fun, pulpy revenge flick or an absurdist genre deconstruction (remember, this is a movie that begins as a quest to avenge a puppy). There is only gunmetal-gray gloominess matched by a disappointingly stiff performance from Reeves, who just can’t work his anti-aging juju on a premise that’s almost ready to be put out to pasture.