' Cinema Romantico: John Wick

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

John Wick

“John Wick” is like a John Woo film made by a very cerebral Team ZAZ, Le Samourai with a doctorate in Mel Brooks. It’s a stoic farce. It embraces every last trope of Gun-Fu genre to the hilt, right down to its mockingly serviceable title, a placeholder for any veteran of the action thriller crusades wishing to lampoon his image by being deadly serious about it. Enter: Keanu Reeves. He grimaces through the entire production like he doesn’t get the joke, which is apropos because he’s the straight man in a wildly stylized sketch.


As the film opens, his wife (Bridgit Moynihan) has just passed away from an unnamed disease, and all we see of her are fleeting images on John Wick’s smartphone where she floats in the technological ether, the place, I assume, we all go these days when we die. Her spirit, however, lives on in the form of a precious puppy she scheduled for delivery to her husband ahead of her passing. Alas, we get but a few scenes this adorable canine before it is unceremoniously stomped and killed by an arrogant son (Alfie Allen) of a Russian Mafioso who then steals Wick’s car and beats him up real good only because he has no idea his victim is John Wick. See, John Wick, we learn, isn’t The Boogeyman – he’s the dude you send to execute The Boogeyman. He’s a retired hitman of the highest order, once in cahoots with Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), the arrogant son’s pops, convenient sort of plotting that “John Wick” turns with a good-natured guffaw.

The world here comes across wholly, intentionally insular, as if it’s only populated with bad men or bad men trying to be good. I half-suspect that Bridgit Moynihan was akin to Claire Forlani in “Mystery Men”, wherein you can’t help but wonder how in the hell she wound up in Champion City. When John Wick decides to re-enter the game he says it’s “personal”, not business, because he has to, but it feels as if he was simply chilling in his home with the plethora of open space and ginormous windows that’s just begging for a shootout and hoping, praying, that someone will stir something up so he could go on a rampage.

World-building is the film’s high point. Consider the hotel where Wick checks in, the Continental, sort of a B&B spin on The Facility of “Cabin in the Woods.” It is not so much a hideout for assassins and hit men as a known refuge, a luxuriously accommodated safe zone lorded over by a majestically suave Ian McShane where there are strict rules about no killing and leaving your business associates to themselves. Lance Reddick runs the front desk with a twinkle in his eye, a performance that is sitting on a two-hour backstory, and frankly, “John Wick” might have been absolutely stellar as its own version of “Casino” (“Continental”?) in following this palace’s rise and inner-workings.


Almost as good is the neon-lit bathhouse where John Wick begins his quest for retribution, a crisply concocted sequence scored majestically to Kaleida that evokes an other-worldly sensation the rest of the film’s unfortunate hard-rocking soundtrack does not. He dips and darts through the elaborate set, dispatching nefarious dudes with bullets and karate chops as blood splatters and limbs break, looking like a dancer in an electronica ballet. It’s freaking heaven, and if the main character’s invincibility is obvious, well, duh. Of course, it is! The film revels in that obviousness, underscored by the deadpan shot of Tarasov in front of a fire with a glass of cognac, awaiting the inevitable, more or less writing off his son’s life even though he knows he has to try and avenge him anyway. “John Wick” takes bad guy code to the extreme.

Then again, that’s also its downfall. After about an hour the film’s style and cheeky humor begins running on fumes, and just sort of gives way into the worse aspects of the product with which it’s been carousing. Oh, the obligatory finale in the rainstorm looks good, yes, but it’s devoid of the rambunctious spirit of the preceding hour. It’s just duplicating moves, not duplicating and expanding, and so it thuds to a disappointing conclusion. It’s one vacation you wish would have taken place entirely at the hotel.

2 comments:

Alex Withrow said...

Couldn't agree more. Sleek and stylish and fun as all hell. But I too wished it would've hung out in the hotel more, because it does lose steam. Still, a two hour sub film for the Lance Reddick character is something I need to see right now.

Customer recommendations for San Antonio Movers website said...

It's a lean, mean and extremely violent B-movie that's already being confirmed as the first part of a franchise in the making.