Movies that feature a story that’s been done to death, characters we’ve all seen, and lots of kinetic action, had better do it all right, or it’s going to be 10% on the tomato-meter, and late-night cable in six months. Fortunately, Keanu Reeves’ new one, “John Wick” does get it mostly right. After the spoiled-brat son of a Russian gangster kills retired assassin John Wick’s puppy, which had been a gift from his recently deceased wife, and steals his beloved classic Mustang, the race is on to see how many of the bad guys he can shoot, stab, choke, blow up or otherwise dispatch in the time it takes for you to finish a box of popcorn. The plot is no-frills, but the film DOES have just enough character development to gin up appropriate fear and loathing of the villains, with the help of on-screen talent like Willem Defoe, John Leguizamo, Michael Nyquist (of “Dragon Tattoo” fame), and Alfie Allen from “Game of Thrones.”
What really makes the film work, though, is Chad Stahelski’s directing. He coordinated stunts for other Reeves projects, including “The Matrix” series, and in charge of the whole film the first time, we see well-choreographed, long-duration action sequences,sometimes called “gun-fu,” where the evil-doers are eliminated, frequently as they fly through the air. The look of the film is elegant, and the pace reminiscent of Reeves’ ’94 classic “Speed”…and a nice tongue-in-cheek touch is an underground five-star hotel just for assassins and associatedcriminals where payment is accepted in gold Krugerands.
If you’re looking for introspective story-telling or moral nuance, “John Wick” is not for you. It’s just an action film…. but one that does what it sets out to do very well indeed.