Magazine article Variety

Slick 'Wick' Does the Trick

Magazine article Variety

Slick 'Wick' Does the Trick

Article excerpt

FILM REVIEW

Slick 'Wick' Does the Trick

There are no good guys in "John Wick," but there are some great actors working alongside Keanu Reeves in his darkest and most tormented role yet: a stunningly lethal contract killer who goes on a rampage after a Russian thug murders his dog. Yes, his dog. If you can stomach the setup, then the rest is pure revengemovie gold, as Reeves reminds us what a compelling action star he can be, while the guy who served as his stunt double in "The Matrix" makes a remarkably satisfying directorial debut, delivering a clean, and incredibly assured thriller with serious breakout potential, thanks in part to Summit Entertainment's simultaneous Imax release.

That upwardly mobile stunt guru is Chad Stahelski, who stepped into Brandon Lee's shoes on "The Crow" and then spent the next two decades absorbing all the behind-the-scenes filming lessons that make "John Wick" such a technically impeccable actioner. (Stahelski and longtime stunt collaborator David Leitch approached the project as a team, but only Stahelski ultimately received a directing credit from the DGA, while Leitch is credited as a producer.) Whereas the tendency among many filmmakers is to jostle the camera and cut frenetically in the misguided belief that such visual confusion will generate excitement, the duo understand the thrill of well-choreographed action in which we're actually able to discern what's happening.

And that's why Reeves is just the right star to play Wick, a short-fuse antihero whose ridiculous moniker clumsily conveys his explosive temper. There's nothing clumsy about the actor who plays Wick, however, as Reeves' lithe physicality enables extended sequences in which he moves athletically through an environment full of adversaries, shooting, stabbing or otherwise immobilizing them one at a time.

Since brutally efficient action sequences are in such short supply these days, the fact that "John Wick" delivers no fewer than half a dozen - home invasion, hotel room, Red Circle club, church parking lot, Brooklyn safehouse, grand finale - more than excuses Derek Kolstad's lamebrained script.

Basically, the idea is to mislead auds into believing that Reeves' character is a mild-mannered family man, compressing the preceding few months of personal tragedy into a montage in which Wick visits his wife in a hospital, attends her raindrenched funeral (where former colleague Marcus, played by Willem Dafoe, makes an ominous appearance), and weeps upon receiving her final gift: a pre-trained puppy named Daisy.

This intro doesn't exactly position Wick as someone Russian mobsters would refer to as "the Boogey Man," but of course, everyone in the theater already knows what's coming. In fact, far from fooling anyone, this mopey opening merely provides an awkward bit of melodrama that we have to get past before the carnage can commence - which it does soon enough, when "Game of Thrones" goon Alfie Allen, playing Iosef, the bratty son of a Russian crime boss, improbably shows up at a rural gas station and offers to buy Wick's prized 1969 Boss Mustang. When Wick declines, the punk and his friends decide to break into his house and help themselves, beating Wick with baseball bats, smashing his belongings, snapping the poor dog's neck and taking the Mustang on their way out.

The script waits until this moment, when Iosef takes the stolen Mustang to the shop to have its plates changed, before revealing Wick's reputation. The fence (a tough-looking John I^guizamo) nervously refuses to help, notifying Iosef's relatively civilized mobster dad, Viggo Thrasov (Michael Nykvist, looking suave and collected in the face of certain death), that his son has awakened a monster. …

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