John Wick is the main character and title of Keanu Reeves’ first big screen appearance since 47 Ronin. (“47” refers to the number of people who saw this film in theaters. Not being one of them, I have no opinion to offer other than it must have been a big stinker.)
JW is a violent, but well staged and edited, action thriller. The title character is a retired hit man. Not just any hit man, he’s The Hitman who never missed, and took on the jobs no one else wanted. He’s the reason the Man in the Moon is dead.
Four years into retirement, JW is living an idyllic life with a beautiful wife and satellite TV that gets channels from three different planets. This happy picture comes to an abrupt end when his wife is shot dead by unknown assailants. Subsequently a puppy is delivered to his door with a note from his deceased wife, who thoughtfully planned for the canine company for her husband in the event of her untimely demise.
One day while filling the gas tank of his souped-up car, a group of rowdy Russians approach him, offering to buy the car. Because he needs to get home he declines their offer.
Later that night, the Russians break into his house, wreck things, beat him senseless, steal the car and – this is the big one – kill the cute little puppy given to him by his now-buried soul mate.
JW then un-retires. The Russian baddies realize who he is and send out a large army of hit men to hit The Hitman. He annihilates them with just a letter opener and a dirty look. (Actually he uses a waffle iron while eating the waffle.)
Then he goes to his secret room and sledgehammers the cement to retrieve his armory. It begins to dawn on the Russian gangsters they’ve really mucked this one up, and they place a $2 million bounty on his head.
Meanwhile, JW checks into a posh downtown NYC hotel that apparently caters exclusively to assassins, although violence on the premises is taboo. The Russian gangsters double the bounty, and the ensuing violence spills over into the Motel 6 Million. JW goes wild. He shoots up car lots, cathedrals, nightclubs, and anywhere else the bad buys might be lurking. Thousands die and more damage is done than if he drove a tank through town firing wildly in all directions.
The plot here is paper-thin, although there are a few nifty surprises. Because the running time (sans end titles) is a tidy 90 minutes, the action never lets up – there’s not a second to spare. KR is electrifying on-screen, and looks great in the scenes where a double isn’t used.
Most of the action takes place indoors at night, providing a helpful cover for shortcomings that might otherwise be obvious. Unfortunately, the action is accompanied by an oppressively loud, heavy metal playlist that’s more macho than the macho characters on screen. It sounds as if there’s a concert in the theater next door and somebody left the connecting door open. When will producers learn that no music is better than the wrong music?
Otherwise this is a stylish film, albeit an unsurprising story of revenge. Not much else. Rated 3.2 out of 4.0 reasons to remember not to stay at The Continental in NYC.