John Wick (2014)
Release Date: October 24th, 2014 MPAA Rating: R
Director: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski Actors: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Bridget Regan
t begins at the end before rewinding back to the start to tell the rather formulaic tale of a mysterious assassin. It’s a hopelessly tired narrative construct that fittingly sets the groundwork for a largely unoriginal actioner with a matching flatline tempo. Once the complex shootouts, hand-to-hand combat, and vehicle stunts initiate, they’re sustained with a pacing and mood that never rise or fall to complement the main villains or secondary henchmen – instead staying evenly destructive and violent. No baddie is particularly memorable and no demise is appropriately outrageous; there’s rambunctiousness but never cathartic flair.
Helen Wick (Bridget Moynahan) succumbs to a terminal illness, but anticipates her death just far enough in advance to send her husband John (Keanu Reeves) a parting gift, which arrives just after her funeral. Breaking the gloom of the required black-clad gatherings and grieving comes a precious beagle puppy (complete with attached card) to keep John company in Helen’s absence. The following day, John has an ominous run-in at a gas station with some Russian hoods, including Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) and his pals Gregori (Omer Barnea) and Victor (Toby Leonard Moore).
That night, the thugs break into John’s New Jersey home to steal his black 1969 Mustang. When they not only beat him unconscious and swipe his ride but also kill the innocent little dog, they set into motion an exceptionally skilled killer’s one-track mindset for revenge. With nothing to lose and an arsenal of weaponry and combat efficiency at his disposal, John Wick commences an all-out war against mob boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), his son Iosef, the various cleaners attempting to collect a $2 million bounty, and anyone who gets in his way.
Wick has only been out of the hired gunman business for a little over five years, but nothing will stop him (certainly not retirement) from wreaking havoc and unleashing bloody vengeance. In a brief glimpse of uniqueness, Wick is slowed down by a bullet and must stop at the Continental Hotel (a safe haven for underworld criminals) to have a medic sew him up. He’s given drugs that will specifically help to stave off infection and pain, even if he must engage in maneuvers that will reopen the wound. For the tiniest moment, Wick is somewhat human. However, seconds later, he proceeds to not only engage in heavy-hitting martial arts and brutal physical strains, but also absorb major punishment directly upon his injury. What was momentarily a grasp of the “Die Hard” approach – instilling a touch of realistic vulnerability in the disorderly carnage – swiftly reverts back to a one-man army emotionlessly demolishing his opponents like the T-800.
The stories and legend of Wick are downright comical, diverting the audience with the summation that he’s not the boogeyman but rather the man regularly hired to kill the boogeyman. Therefore, the antagonists can do nothing except wait to be waylaid and dispatched. Rock music, cold stares, and plenty of bullets emphasize his proficiency, as the plot needs all the help it can get to impart the coolness it desperately wants to exhibit. Even though Wick receives a bit of aid from a thoroughly enjoyable associate from the past, the assemblage of supporting roles aren’t given enough substance, as if all the actors were assigned the same number of lines of dialogue and amount of screentime to keep things fair. Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo, and Ian McShane are largely inconsequential. In terms of shootouts and destruction, “John Wick” does boast variety, but the amusement can’t even best the nonsensical extremes undertaken by this year’s “The Equalizer.” And the “produced by Eva Longoria” credit at the end certainly doesn’t administer a jolt of gravity to this commonplace thriller.
– Mike Massie