Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong and Bloody Violence throughout, Language and brief Drug Use
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane & Lance Reddick
The promotional material for JOHN WICK didn’t try to hide how basic this action flick was in the trailers and TV spots. It looked like something Schwarzenegger or Stallone would headline during the 80’s boom of big dumb action movies. These kind of films are made for a certain crowd of people (not to be sexist, but it’s mostly a male audience). JOHN WICK is every bit as ridiculous as the marketing made it look. It’s also ridiculously fun thanks to kick-ass style, unexpected talent, and an incredible body count of bad guys.
John Wick, a former contract killer, is grieving over the death of his wife to cancer. However, John’s deceased spouse thought ahead and sent an adorable little beagle to keep him company. John grows attached to the dog and blows off steam by driving down an abandoned runway in his ’69 Mustang. After a group of Russian punks kill his dog and steal his car, John sets off on a bloody quest to get even with a gang of pissed off gun-totting Russians. Some of which include head honchos, sexy assassins, and an endless supply of nameless thugs. The dog and car would be valid enough reasons for any person to go on a killing spree of gangsters, but John’s very good at taking down tough guys. This leads to lots of mayhem, gun fights, and explosions.
The plot is as simple as you can get. Little details are thrown in to make things even more creative than it might have originally been (I loved the addition of a special hotel). They killed his dog and stole his car, so now he’s going to kill them. No qualms are made about what kind of film JOHN WICK is. It’s an R-rated flick that piles the bodies high and splatters gallons of blood everywhere. There’s a neat style to the whole movie that adds glossy visuals to city battleground between one man and a league of gangsters/assassins. The cast of characters is interesting, in spite of acting faults (more on that in a moment). John Wick is easily the most likable hitman worth rooting for since Leon in LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL.
Keanu Reeves still can’t put on a believable emotion to save his life, but he’s well-cast as John Wick for the most part. He’s mainly a killer out for vengeance who doesn’t have much in the way of emotions other than being pissed off. At the beginning of the film, he does need to show sadness and can’t seem to deliver the dialogue in a convincing way. This isn’t a massive portion of the film though. The other thugs are enjoyable to watch in getting their well-deserved demises. Faces like Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, and even a super brief John Leguizamo are all welcomed additions. Dean Winters (a.k.a. Mayhem in the All-State commercials) is totally underused as a wussy second-in-command to the Russian mafia lord.
Another major issue that detracts from the enjoyment factor in JOHN WICK is the ending itself. While I don’t necessarily dislike the conclusion, but it almost feels like a script for JOHN WICK 2 condensed it down to the last 15 minutes. That may be seen as a plus for many, but it almost feels as if the movie was oddly structured. I would have actually been a lot happier if a few scenes had been rearranged from the conclusion and put earlier on,. The best final shot that this film could have ended on was a scene that occurred 15 minutes before the closing credits actually rolled.
JOHN WICK is a strong and competent action flick that will satisfy those looking to get their rocks off on Keanu Reeves offing Russian gangsters in bloody ways. We’ve now had two big action movies revolving around big name actors picking off the Russian mafia in creative ways in the space of less than two months (THE EQUALIZER being the first). Now all we need to see is a crossover sequel that unites Reeves and Denzel Washington as mismatched partners taking down even more foreign gangsters. Imagine the possibilities. You should already know if JOHN WICK is for you by now!