John Wick

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday October 24, 2014

Keanu Reeves in 'John Wick'
Keanu Reeves in 'John Wick'  (Source:Lionsgate)

Judging from the trailer, "John Wick" is a taut, atmospheric thriller. Judging from the film itself, it's a comedy -- but then again, this is a Keanu Reeves vehicle, and most of Reeves' films are comedies, whether inadvertently or by design, so what should we expect?

Fortunately, the film -- written by Derek Kolstad and directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski -- is meant to be funny, despite a grim intro in which the wife of former underworld heavy John Wick (Reeves) dies after a long illness; the puppy she arranged to be delivered post-funeral is murdered by three Russian thugs; and the same trio of punks steal Wick's classic car. It's not until crime boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), the father of wild young Russkie ruffian Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), hears from chop shop operator Aurelio (John Leguizamo) what junior's done, and to whom, that the film's true nature flourishes like a rose in blossom: "Oh," Tarasov, Sr., says, his face falling. Cue the first gales of laughter.

There's plenty more to come. In order to protect his son, Tarasov first sends a hit squad to the Wick's house -- the second such home invasion in a 24-hour period, which makes you wonder why Wick doesn't bother to install a decent security system. (Then again, Wick also seems untroubled about leaving a stockpile of weapons and gold Krugerrands lying around, untended, in his basement.) Once Wick wipes out every member of the squad (and phones up a professional cleaning service to put the house back in order -- some of those Kruggerands change hands, and it won't be the last time), Tarasov puts out a contract on Wick's life.

This draws out all manner of assassin, ruffian, and gun-toting tough, including Wick's good friend Marcus (Willem Dafoe, not even trying to act well here) and "Ms. Perkins," a shapely brat with an attitude problem, even for the crowd she runs with. After all, the rest of the goons are willing to observe long-standing codes of honor that include a prohibition against conducting "business" at a posh hotel that seems to cater to hired killers and other shady customers; Ms. Perkins, however, disdains all such old-school notions.

Familiar faces come out of the woodwork with metronomic regularity, and the surprises mount with increasing fun. Dean Winters, of Allstate's "Mayhem" ads, plays Tarasov's frazzled-but-loyal major doom; Ian McShane plays the hotel's owner; Lance Reddick puts on an accent for a turn as the hotel's general manager; Clark Peters plays a fellow badass whose room is next to Wick's. Their reunion is cordial but commercial, with still more Krugerrands swapping hands. Those gold coins get to be a running joke, even opening the door to the hotel's basement speakeasy, a joint so packed with the sinister and the nefarious that it makes the cantina in "Star Wars" look like a family dinner.

Like all superheroes, be they aliens graced with exceptional strength and speed or examples of regular old homo sapiens with impeccable wardrobes and an impossibly good aim (except when the script arbitrarily demands otherwise), Wick has the ability to appear out of thin air, no matter how well guarded the stronghold (or, in one case, mineral baths). He's also talented at dodging gunfire (if "The Matrix" clued us in to the spectacle of "bullet time," "John Wick" shrugs aside all such fancy presentation and simply gives us bullets all the time), shrugging off injuries that would finish off ordinary mortals, and prowling around with a steely glare that promises veritable cascades of whup-ass that are fixin' to descend. In short, he's a movie mensch, even if those retro-70s mutton chop whiskers look like they've been glued instead of grown.

Far from apologizing for its reliance on the well-worn action movie conventions from which it's cobbled together, "John Wick" revels in them. It's the cinematic equivalent of candy corn, so you might as well just dive in: This is the kind of film that is so loud, dumb, and kinetic you're going to enjoy every implausible minute.


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Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.