“John Wick” Is Stylish, Kinetic… Feh

The movie John Wick is heralded as a stylish return to action for Keanu Reeves, “kinetic”, and umpteen other positive things. I suppose it is those, but the movie has so many significant flaws that in Keanu’s place (yeah, right) I would have waited for the next derivative script to come down the pike.

Wick doesn’t fully take itself seriously, but also never earns the right not to do so. Camp abounds at least from the first action sequence, the aftermath of which features a policeman knowingly bowing out with a slight smirk upon seeing a dead body in Wick’s hallway, a softball to the audience to guffaw over Wick’s suddenly established badass cred. The cop’s presence is mystifying, as supposedly he shows up because of noise reports from neighbors; if he’s on someone’s payroll, it wouldn’t be Wick’s, as he is retired. If he’s showing up to help Wick repel home invaders, knowing the business Wick is/was in and Wick’s reputation, he would know better than to show up with just a service sidearm hoping for the best, or even to survive if Wick were really in trouble.

The lauded action sequences also leave much to be desired. A film about assassins should either go for full-on comedy, as in  The Big Hit, or take at least some pains to establish credibility. I suspect that here the script and the choreography are jointly to blame, but Wick on many occasions acts so downright stupidly and clumsily that there’s no way to suspend disbelief that he’s a world-class assassin, even one very long out of practice.

Problems with the action include Wick carrying, or at least using, only a single sidearm even while attacking a room full of baddies. Wick’s magazine reloads seem relatively slow and clumsy much of the time (which may be a bit of a relief after the drop-the-gun-onto-the-floating-magazine hyperbole present in some similarly derivative violent films), but in general it simply wouldn’t be a workable plan to take on dozens of armed and ready opponents with only a few rounds to use at a time. Wick also wastes bullets foolishly throughout the movie, including triple-tapping some targets with point-blank shots to the cranium from different angles.

A real-life assassin would be unlikely to rely so much on the element of surprise in the open as Wick does with such overwhelmingly negative odds, but if so would simply pack more heat and be practiced at spending it well. (My wife felt that this could be explained as the violence being personal for Wick, but I don’t think that quite covers it; Wick shows anger only with a few of the cast of hundreds, even giving one of them the “night off” who guards the door, a ridiculously easy target compared to the multitude behind it.) Collateral did action sequences like this much better in terms of believability of the sequences themselves and their importance to, and placement in, the plot.

Apparently in an attempt to make Wick lovable, he also doesn’t behave as a hardened killer would–when not shooting people repeatedly in the face, I mean. When a woman assassin acquaintance breaks the rules of their safe-haven hotel in order to attempt Wick’s life, almost succeeding, he can’t bring himself to kill her, leaving her in the care of another assassin instead. After knocking out what is surely the core fighting strength of the Russian mob boss whose son has so offended him by killing his puppy, the same mob boss who has attempted to have Wick killed, Wick lets him live. (This aging prizefighter-type cardboard cutout is the same one that Wick inexplicably has incredible difficulty killing in the lousiest hand-to-hand fight scene I can recall. The Most Interesting Man In The World would make a more convincing action nemesis, yet uber-killer Wick is surprised by numerous unexceptional punches and nearly overcome.)

The plot and characterization almost deserve no mention. The plot can be summarized thusly:

* Assassin’s wife dies of disease, leaving him a puppy.

* Bad guys want to steal assassin’s car, so they do–but kill his puppy. They hide their faces presumably to avoid being seen on video security cameras, yet make sure that the witness they leave alive and pretty much fully functioning could identify them. Bad guys don’t know assassin is “the boogeyman”.

* Assassin is revealed as “the boogeyman”, capable of impossible feats.

* Mob boss sends a crew to take out known boogeyman-assassin unawares at assassin’s home. Assassin has zero safeguards at said home, is taken nearly unawares, and yet manages to kill the entire crew; and the mob boss, knowing the crew would fail yet having sent them anyway, doesn’t think to station a single sniper outside to actually take out the target, a real “Scott Evil” realization-moment. (Said mob boss does hire a sniper much later, but only when the target is on the move and choosing to hire the target’s best friend.)

* Assassin goes to take out the mob with a pistol, by wading into rooms of mobsters with said pistol. His main trick (but apparently a good one) is to leap into the air and bear people to the ground with his body weight while shooting them in the face, ignoring everyone else in the vicinity. Endless bad guys are too surprised that someone is jumping on them and shooting them in the face to do anything about it.

* Mobster boss baits a trap with his own son. Assassin whacks nearly everybody remaining but mob boss.

* Assassin whacks mob boss. But he has trouble doing it, because mob boss is a person of willpower and knows how to throw a slow right hook. Yet assassin finally triumphs!

Fans of this type of action would be better off watching Heat or Collateral (yes, perhaps I have a soft spot for Michael Mann). Interested fans of Keanu Reeves would be better off queuing up another viewing of Constantine or The Matrix. John Wick is so lousy I won’t waste another two hours on it, as there are simply no depths to plumb.