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Keanu Reeves Is an Action Hero Again in John Wick

Elizabeth Harper | 10 Oct 2014 12:00
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Releases October 24th. Actors: Keanu Reeves, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe. Directors: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski. Distributed by Lionsgate, which is an investor in Defy Media, LLC, The Escapist's parent company. Advance screening provided by Fantastic Fest.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has had a bad week. First his wife died and then he ran afoul of some gangsters who decided they wanted his car... so they broke into his house, beat him up, stole his car, and killed his new puppy. Though we get the feeling Wick could have lived with the other insults, losing the dog -- a final gift from his wife -- was just too much. That's an unfortunate thing for the gangsters who make up our cast of protagonists, because John Wick is a retired super-assassin who's about to come out of retirement.

Yes, this is the whole premise behind the movie. After the initial setup of Wick's character, the film dives straight into the action of Wick murdering everyone who gets between him and the guy who took his car and killed his dog. (Spoiler alert: this winds up being a lot of people.) It's over the top, sure, but the premise is just believable enough and the action just fun enough that you don't stop to worry about it.

Great performances from the whole cast also help you overlook the rather skimpy plot. Reeves takes to being a restrained action hero like the old-hand he is, Michael Nyqvist makes for an admirably villainous mobster, and there are strong performances from the supporting cast, featuring Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane, and Willem Dafoe. Don't expect much emotional nuance from anyone here -- all of the characters are a bit one-note, but everyone takes to their characters with serious performances that lend credence to the story.

John Wick marks the directing debut of David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, both of whom are better known for doing and coordinating stunts -- and their experience in stuntwork shows here. The bulk of John Wick is extended action sequences with only occasional breaks for dialog and one-liners, but each action scene has speed and variety that carries the film despite the light-weight plot. The action feels more like a video game than anything else I've seen in film, and as Wick efficiently mows down bad guys gamers will likely feel as though they should see achievement announcements or high scores showing up on screen.

Beyond the potential for a video game spin-off, John Wick seems perfectly designed to set up a franchise: it does a solid job of introducing us not only to Wick himself, but also to the secretive world of assassins he operates in. While John Wick tells a complete story in and of itself, after watching it you're left wondering what happens next... and if this flick does well, hey, Hollywood could do worse for a sequel.

Bottom Line: Though John Wick's plot is light-weight, solid performances from the entire cast -- and simply stellar action sequences -- keep it afloat, and even fun, throughout.

Recommendation: Though John Wick won't inspire a lot of deep thinking, it's tremendously good at what it's trying to be: an action movie. If that's all you want out of your moviegoing experience, then you can't go wrong with John Wick.

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