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John Wick
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by Peter Sobczynski

"PERKINS or (Alfie, Please Use Your Brain)"
4 stars

Those of you who have been reading my reviews for a while will no doubt know that I apparently have a soft spot in my heart (not to mention head) for super-stylish and wildly executed action extravaganzas--this is the guy, after all, who put "Bullet to the Head" on his 10 Best list for last year and who more or less revers Luc Besson as a saint of the cinema. And yet, even I am somewhat in awe of "John Wick," a film so cheerfully excessive that it is at the over-the-top stage right at the start and only proceeds to push things further and further as things progress until I wasn't sure whether I was seeing the dumbest movie ever made or some kind of cockeyed masterpiece even after the end credits were unrolling. Now that I have had a couple of weeks to mull it over, I think that I am finally leaning toward the latter. Yes, it is incredibly dumb and its excesses are so pronounced that anyone attempting a straightforward critical analysis may well go completely mad in the process. However, it displays the kind of craziness that is so profound and serenely self-confident in its lunacy that I have to bow to it--this is easily the most demented action extravaganza to hit theaters since "Lucy" and by far the most entertaining to boot.

Keanu Reeves IS John Wick and as the film opens, he is reeling from the death of his beloved wife (Bridget Moynihan in one of the more thankless female roles in recent memory) when a package arrives at his door the night after her funeral containing a pre-trained puppy to keep him from being alone. Although this violates the basic rule of manners that says you never get anyone a pet as a gift unless they know it is coming, this particular situation calls for an exemption and besides, John dotes on the dog and even takes it with him when he goes out to burn rubber in his classic muscle car. While gassing up after one jaunt, he is approached by a Russian punk (Alfie Allen) who wants to buy the car. John refuses and later that night, the punk and his pals show up at John's house to break in, beat him to a pulp and steal his car. As for the dog--well, this is the rare action film where the dog doesn't survive its apparent annihilation. Since the punk in question is Iosef Tarasov, the son of feared crime kingpin Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), he figures that there will be absolutely nothing in the way of retribution.

Of course, we all know that retribution will be coming in spades but as it turns out, Iosef could not have picked a worse guy to mess with than John. Although he seems mild-mannered enough, John used to be Viggo's deadliest hitman--he was called The Boogey Man because if you wanted to kill the Boogey Man, he was the man to contact--and when he wanted out of the life free and clear five years earlier in order to get married and start a new life, Viggo agreed as long as John pulled off a seemingly impossible job, which he of course did. Now with nothing to lose, John pulls his guns out of storage and begins gunning for Iosef. For his part, Viggo feels for John and even agrees that his son is a hotheaded jackass but blood is thicker than water (as will soon be proven during the brutality to come) and so he puts the word out to all hitmen in the area to take him down at all costs. Some, such as Marcus (Willem Dafoe), are sympathetic to John's cause while others, such as sexpot killer Perkins (Adrienne Palicki), are more than willing to take out one of their own for the right price.

Of course, Derek Kolsted's screenplay--essentially a knockoff of the great existential crime film "Point Blank" with Keanu Reeves in the Lee Marvin role--doesn't really spend a whole lot of time dwelling on its narrative particulars. Instead, it is too busy hurtling viewers from one elaborately staged action setpiece that lets co-directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, former stuntmen making their debuts behind the camera, strut their stuff in an orgy of broken bones, snapped necks, explosions, chases, stabbings, beating and bullets. The whole thing is dopey as can be but as it went along, I found myself actually getting into it. The film has be made with a sense of style that is undeniable, the fight scenes avoid the rapid-fire editing that is all the rage these days in order to play out in a way that allows viewers to actually see and appreciate the efforts of the stunt crew and the directors keep everything humming along at a brisk pace without becoming simply exhausting. It even has a couple of elements of genuine inspiration to offer, the best of the bunch being a hotel that overseen by the genial Winston (Ian McShane) and which serves as a neutral ground for assassins to kick back and relax without worrying about being gunned down by the competition, though it is perhaps inevitable that this dentente will collapse as soon as John checks in.

Ignoring "47 Ronin," and we should have no problem with that, to judge by the box-office receipts, "John Wick" marks the first top-billed performance in a major movie by Keanu Reeves in years--I want to say that the grisly remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" was the last one. He has an admittedly unique presence as an actor and when it is misused, the results can be fairly ghastly but when he gets a part that knows how to make his bemused sense of holy cool pay off, as was the case in "Speed," "The Matrix" and the "Bill & Ted" movies, the results can be enormously entertaining and that is the case here. Put it this way--if there is any actor out there that I would believe in the role of a super-powerful hitman going on a rampage of revenge over a dead puppy, Reeves is the guy. More importantly, he is more than convincing with the physical aspects of the role and even manages to find a nicely humorous edge to some of the scenes that keeps things from getting too grim and gory. Likewise, the rest of the cast turn in entertaining variations of performances that they could theoretically do in their sleep and as the alluring and deadly Perkins, Adrienne Palicki steals every scene that she is in and even some that she isn't. If anyone out there decides to form a Kickstarter campaign in the hopes of funding a Perkins spinoff film, I would cheerfully donate to the cause and encourage everyone I know to do the same.

As I said before, "John Wick" is a perfectly ridiculous movie from start to finish and I will admit that had I seen it at any other time, there is a fairly good chance that I would have simply dismissed it as absurdist trash. However, I happened to catch in while in the middle of watching a bunch of film festival entries that were earnest and serious-minded as one could ask for but which were more often than not the kind of dull cinema that is good for you in the worst possible way without being particularly entertaining. Say what you will about "John Wick," it is never dull--especially when that Perkins is involved--and anyone in the mood for nothing more than a goofy and gory good time are advised to do what its hero does frequently throughout its running time and give it a shot.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27846&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/23/14 16:39:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2014 Fantastic Fest series, click here.

User Comments

7/12/20 morris campbell great action thin story 4 stars
10/02/18 Paulie Shore's ghost Reeves killed it! 5 stars
3/15/15 mr.mike The final fight is too short, otherwise quite good. 4 stars
2/03/15 KingNeutron Well worth watching, definitely one of Keanu's best roles 5 stars
1/01/15 Ravenmad Awesome action, dark humor, consistent tone, interesting world. Grit is great. 5 stars
10/26/14 Bob Dog Not as great as I'd hoped. (I'd love to see a crossover sequel: John Wick Vs The Equalizer) 3 stars
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  24-Oct-2014 (R)
  DVD: 03-Feb-2015


  DVD: 03-Feb-2015

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