“John Wick,” an action-thriller starring Keanu Reeves, doesn’t leave a single cliché unturned. Showing not an ounce of invention, the movie recycles the same old scenarios, shootouts, man-to-man combat, car chases and fiery explosions.
The “John Wick” script occasionally aspires to dry wit of the kind spoken through the past 50 years by the of actors who’ve played superspy James Bond. It also replicates the quick, thoughtless killing common in pre-Daniel Craig Bond films. The latter scenes and “John Wick’s” lame attempts at humor reinforce its fatal shortcomings.
The movie has some style, no substance. At least it’s photographed well. But with a parade of characters who say the most obvious things and make one fatal, predictable mistake after another, “John Wick” manages to be slick and stupid.
Reeves plays the title character, a retired hit man. Fueled by rage that Reeves fails to convey, Wick re-enters the world of gangsters and assassins to prosecute an act of revenge.
Before his retirement, Wick was the best killer on the market. A relentless assassin, Wick was the guy you sent to slay the bogeymen. But when the dozens of killers sent to knock off Wick prove incompetent, Wick’s dispatching of them doesn’t look like the work of a brilliant commando. More like easy pickings.
Before Wick busts into his buried-under-the floor reserve of weapons and starts killing again, there’s a lyrical montage of the happiness that took him out of assassination business. He married Helen (Bridget Moynahan), the love of his life, but then had to watch her die young from a terminal disease.
A funeral scene in the rain introduces Wick’s colleague, Marcus. Seeing Willem Dafoe, a great character actor, in the role would seem to be a good sign that “John Wick” has promise. Unfortunately, Marcus is one more dull character who does exactly what we expect him to do.
Wick’s motivation to go on a new killing spree springs from the wicked deeds of Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), vicious son of Russian crime boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). When Iosef sees something he wants, he takes it. He wants Wick’s 1969 Mustang.
Days after the death of Helen, Iosef invades Wick’s house, kills the beagle puppy Helen arranged to be posthumously delivered to her grieving husband and steals the Mustang.
When Viggo learns what his psychotic son has done, he is angry.
“It’s not what you did, son, that angers me,” Viggo explains to young Iosef. “It’s who you did it to.”
For Wick, the car was special; the puppy, because of its source, more special. He lets loose his dogs of war. As the body count rises and rises, so does the ridiculousness of a movie that’s not as smart as it assumes it is.