Ever since The Matrix, Keanu Reeves has tried to reinvent himself as a full-tilt, face-smashing, spine-stomping action star who can kick backside as much any rival from Asia. He comes closest to his goal in John Wick, a martial-arts and automatic-weapons revenge saga that pales in comparison to the best to which he will be compared -- hello Indonesia’s The Raid 2 -- but is better than much of what he’s done recently. I’m looking at you Man of Tai Chi.
The story is simple. Reeves is John Wick, a retired New Jersey hitman with a reputation so ferocious that -- as it’s told here -- you didn’t hire him to be the bogeyman, you hired him to kill the bogeyman. But he’s dragged back into the game after his wife dies and the puppy she’s given him is brutally killed by a crew of thugs headed up by the son of a local Russian mob boss.
They were enraged that Wick wouldn’t sell them his vintage Mustang and they broke into his sleek, modern home, took their anger out on his poor pup -- and much of the house. Of course, Wick has to go after all those who have wronged him and, of course, those Russians are no match for Wick’s killin’ skills.
What’s on display here in the debut feature for former stunt man Charles Stahelski is a stylized sense of choreographed cool -- the best scene is a head-splattering shoot-out in an EDM dance club -- as the plot is predictable and plodding.
Yet, for all the film’s stylishness and a body count worthy of a small civil war, there’s no getting around the fact that stiff, stoic Reeves -- who is capable of a few funny, deadpan lines -- isn’t a particularly compelling lead action figure.
* * * (out of five)
Directors: Charles Stahelski, David Leitch
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Willem DaFoe
Rated: R (strong and bloody violence, strong language, brief drug use)
Running time: 101 min.