Directed by: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki
Rated: R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
The first warning sign “John Wick” gives us is that there was very, very little publicity about it. Your humble reviewer sees several movies a month, plus previews, and saw nary a single preview for Keanu Reeves’ latest vehicle. The second, of course, is that Reeves is in it. He’s not untalented, but he definitely has trouble picking quality movies on anything resembling a regular basis.
The two together should have been enough to warn even a person who enjoys bad movies for how bad they are to stay away. Sadly, it was not.
“John Wick” is a disappointingly standard revenge movie. We get to hear characters say variations on “his wife died, then you killed his dog and stole his car” repeatedly, in case we left the theater to get more popcorn and forgot what happened in the first act of the film. Bad things happen to John (and to the puppy given to him by his late wife – if you don’t like movies where pets are killed just barely off screen, steer clear). Wick is out to track down and destroy the people responsible. Along the way, we meet people who remember him from before he left his life as a hit man – fellow killers, mob bosses, owners of criminal establishments, and so on. He’s able to call on his old friends to help him in his mission.
There are a lot of things that make “John Wick” bad (starting with whether our hero is named John or Jon, the latter being short for Jonathan), but the one that ties them all together is its complete lack of humor about itself. There’s a teeny bit of scenery-chewing (from Reeves, even, which is startling), and one character who finally displays some awareness of how ridiculous the story is near the end of the film, but that’s it. Everything else is deadly serious. Reeves is very good at making serious faces and delivering lines in a tone that can be interpreted as controlled anger, so this works for him, but everything about the movie is so ridiculous that making it serious has the same effect as making a superhero movie serious. Unless you’re a genius, it just doesn’t work.
“John Wick” is not the work of a genius.
The cinematography, soundtrack, and acting are, for the most part, competent and workmanlike. The fight choreography is actually surprisingly good considering the rest of the film – likely because the two directors have extensive filmographies as stuntmen and stunt coordinators. This is their first feature film, and it shows.
Whether “John Wick” is worth your time and money depends on whether you enjoy this particular genre of films and whether you enjoy grim/dark movies. Also, if you’re the kind of person who cringes as soon as a main character gets a pet because you’re bracing for it to be hurt as a plot device, stay far away.