Burn identity

Fun fact: “Keanu” is a Hawaiian word meaning “cool mountain breeze.”

Fun fact: “Keanu” is a Hawaiian word meaning “cool mountain breeze.”

Rated 4.0

Just in case you didn’t get your fill of people being dispatched en masse in Fury, along comes John Wick. The latest Keanu Reeves vehicle is a stunner. It boasts a high body count, and offers cinematic proof that you shouldn’t mess with a man’s best friend.

In the film’s opening moments, we learn that the title character (Reeves) has lost his wife, and he’s taking it justifiably hard. Shortly after her death, a little pet carrier arrives at his door with an adorable beagle inside. His wife has given him a gift of companionship from the beyond, and it’s a very sweet moment. The few scenes of Wick and the dog bonding help to build an instant likability for the Wick character.

While putting some gas in his sweet Mustang, a young Russian man (Alfie Allen) asks if he can buy the car. Wick groans that it is not for sale. His unwillingness to part with the car results in tragedy as the Russian mob comes to his house, beats him to within inches of death, kills the puppy and takes the car.

Well, they’ve messed with the wrong guy.

Wicks is a former hired assassin with a bunch of weaponry and gold buried in his floor. He’s known around town as the Boogeyman, and the asshole that stole his car has a father, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), who once employed Wick. Viggo lived in confidence that Wick was retired and out of the game. Now, his son has killed the Boogeyman’s dog, and all involved, voluntarily or not, are going to face his wrath.

That wrath consists of some of the greatest choreographed carnage in recent movie memory. Wick shoots bad guys in a way that evokes a ninja, with a precision that protects the innocent but anybody in the surroundings with a criminal background is going to die, no matter what they do.

The film is co-directed by a couple of stunt guys, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, making their directorial debuts. Stahelski has actually been a Reeves stunt double many times, including the Matrix films, Constantine and Point Break. The familiarity with each other pays off, because the stunt sequences and choreography are flawless. In the pantheon of action movie directing debuts, this one stands very tall.

Reeves is an actor who has taken a lot of shots over the years. True, he can be pretty darned bad in some films, but I think the guy has strong command of himself in front of a camera. There’s a scene in this movie that may very well contain the best acting of his career. Wick doesn’t exactly wear his emotions on his sleeve. He’s a simmering sort, but once pushed to a certain level, he shows some mighty powerful rage, and Reeves is very much up to the task.

It’s also clear that Reeves does much of his own stunt work in the film. There’s a lot of rolling around and gun dances. He’s always been a capable action star, and his physical outing here is as impressive as his work in The Matrix. The first one. Screw the sequels.

The screenplay adds some nice touches, including an exclusive hotel for assassins run by Ian McShane. The place is like some sort of artist’s loft, except for the fact that the inhabitants paint with blood and brains. When Wick gets his stay violently interrupted, the calm calls from the front desk and fellow criminals sleepily sticking their heads out of doors to see what’s going on are quite funny.

Willem Dafoe makes a nice mark in a few scenes as a double-crossing hitman. Adrianne Palicki, the actress who was supposed to be Wonder Woman until NBC saw the pilot and puked, shows action movie chops as another gun-for-hire that can’t be trusted.

John Wick is a great-looking movie that mixes in some strong emotions with its awesome set pieces. It’s nice to see Keanu Reeves back in the saddle. Now, with the success of this film, perhaps somebody will finally greenlight Bill and Ted 3.