Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and Dean Winters.
Directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski
96 minutes by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
Keanu Reeves has turned into his own meme. Sad Keanu. Google it, it’s very sad. John Wick is a movie version of Sad Keanu, but with guns. And more point-blank headshots than the photo booth at the DMV. Enough that they start to have a numbing sensation, a side effect that comes in handy for John Wick’s plodding second half. The film starts very dark: former hitman John Wick is burying his wife, who died suddenly from an illness, as opposed to a bullet like everyone else in this story. Before she keeled over, the sweet wife arranged to have a dog delivered to John on the day of her funeral. The puppy — with his droopy little eyes and puppy-dog tail and his scurrying paws — arrives and immediately alters John’s mood for the better. Things are looking up after all. But we’ve already established that bad things (and Sad Keanu) happen in this movie, things that end with point-blank gunshots to the face. These things transpire because the puppy has to die. It just has to go. And go the puppy does at the hands of Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen, aka Theon Freakin’ Greyjoy), the dim-witted son of a Russian mobster who is too cocky and arrogant to even know that he just blew up the world of the wrong guy. So all that is just setup. Here is the plot: John Wick murders an entire mob family as payback for the death of his puppy. Now, that sounds monotonous and dull, and it mostly is, especially in John Wick’s darker later episodes. But for large swaths of the first half this violent and gritty action thriller is a rather amusing comic adventure. I especially enjoyed the kingpin’s answer to why a low-level car thief would punch the kinpin’s son. He killed John Wick’s dog, the grunt says. “Oh,” the kingpin mumbles. Never before has “oh” meant so much. In those two letters he’s summed up his entire fate. Other scenes are just absurdly dark, so much that you can’t help but laugh. After a particularly violent shoot-out, John calls for a hitman cleaning crew. The team arrives with all sorts of cleaning devices, including one big burly guy who only carries a squeegee. The crew Saran wraps the bodies into neat little take-out packages. And off they go as if wanton murder never took place. I also appreciated how everyone in the film knew who John Wick was, because he was just that legendary a hitman. At one point a local cop shows up to a shootout and John barely has to explain himself before the cop tips his hat and whistles away as if he never saw anything. Murder machine John eventually gets stuck in a gory loop of violent head-exploding gunfights. At first his cruelty is oddly humorous, like when he wounds a bad guy, lets him cringe and bleed on the floor as he reloads his own gun to only blast him in the head. The joke here is that the threat was already isolated, but John takes his time to pop the guy in his dome because he’s some kind of obsessive completionist. This macabre brand of humor fades quickly as the headshots start stacking up and up and up. How many is too many? John Wick seems to be grasping for an answer. David Leitch and Chad Stahelski’s film employs a wide variety of top-tier talent, especially if you watch HBO’s programming. The Wire’s Clarke Peters and Lance Reddick play two pros in a hotel, Deadwood’s Ian McShane is a club owner with information to sell, Newsroom’s Thomas Sadoski plays the befuddled cop, and Allen, Game of Throne’s organ-less imp Theon Greyjoy, plays the puppy killer. Other larger performances include Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo, Michael Nyqvist and Dean Winters, whose work on TV is also goofily entertaining — he is the Mayhem insurance salesman and 30 Rock’s Beeper King. Altogether, this is a nice cast and the way the film is structured, I was never quite sure who was going to turn up next. I just wish the film could hold my attention longer. As the body count rose, my attention drifted. The film looks snazzy, and Reeves plays Sad Keanu quite well, I just couldn’t punch through all the arbitrary killing, which was novel in small little dashes, just not something I could watch uninterrupted for a whole movie.