John Wick Review

John Wick

There is a scene in National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon in which assorted goons form an orderly and seemingly endless queue to have their asses kicked by Emilio Estevez’s loose-cannon cop.

I was somehow reminded of this scene whilst watching the movie which has been widely touted as Keanu Reeves’ “comeback action film”, John Wick.

The film opens with a flashforward shot of a car smashing into a wall and Reeves’ character climbing weakly from the wreckage.

Given John Wick’s surrounding hype, you can’t help but wonder if this a knowing nod to Reeves’ career of late. Not that the career has been a car crash, more like a dead end.

Granted, Reeves had recently graced our screens in 47 Ronin, but before that was a decidedly fallow period, arguably beginning with a gradual post-Matrix downturn and hitting bottom with the underwhelming remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

So, has Reeves climbed from the wreckage with this one?

The film tells the story of the eponymous hero, a tough bloke with a tragic past. Opening flashbacks inform us that John’s wife has passed away and it has hit him pretty hard. As her dying gift, she arranges for John to be entrusted with the care of a beagle named Daisy.

One day, John falls foul of some thugs led by Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), cocky son of crime boss Viggo (Michael Nyqvist). They steal John’s car and kill his dog.

We then learn that John is one of Viggo’s former associates, a gangster with a reputation for bloodshed. And that’s when the proverbial really hits the fan.

The rest of the film basically consists of John waging a one-man war against an apparently infinite army of well-armed henchmen. There is much gore and violence and grunting and gun-fu, which, if you like that sort of thing, is all done very well.

This is not surprising really, given the action choreography pedigree of ex-stuntman Chad Stahelski, on directing duties this time.

Sure, the violence is graphic, but is pitched firmly at a hyper-real, comic-book level. And anyway, in the Hollywood rulebook, the murder of a cute little dog seemingly equates to carte blanche for the nastiest retribution possible.

Reeves isn’t going to win any awards for this, but if he wanted to reinvent himself as a no-nonsense action hero, this kind of film certainly isn’t a bad start. After all, it worked for Liam Neeson.

And the majority of the Expendables cast.

Reeves is aided along the way by a decent support cast, which lifts the film above its by-the-numbers plot.

Nyqvist is clearly having fun as Viggo, whilst Allen is suitably odious as Iosef. There are also cameo performances from Wire alumni Lance Reddick and Clarke Peters, and some brief but welcome turns by the likes of Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo and Ian McShane.

The female characters are admittedly given short shrift, a common pitfall of the genre, with Adrianne Palicki struggling to make more of a thinly-drawn character.

John Wick isn’t quite as tongue-in-cheek as Shoot Em Up, or as hand-held-gritty as, say, the first Taken film, but it still entertains if you’re a fan of the genre, even if it does boast one extended climax too many.

So, is this a new start for Reeves? The reportedly-announced sequel seems to suggest so.

Conor Brennan

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Dates ‘n stuff

April 2015