Saturday, May 16, 2015

Burnt Wick

Though action movies are quite often summer blockbusters, those two kinds of films aren't always one and the same. A recent example of this was last year's John Wick -- a full-tilt action film released well outside the summer season.

Keanu Reeves stars as the title character, a former hitman/cleaner/boogeyman that got out of the game when he met and married the right woman. His life has recently changed again with her death to disease, and his grieving process is rudely interrupted by a chance encounter with the weaselly son of a Russian mobster Wick used to work for. Suddenly, Wick has a purpose again: a scorched earth quest for vengeance.

I've been deliberately vague in my description of the movie's plot, as there's very little plot to it. There's only the bare bones needed to get the thrill ride started. While that might be a detriment for most movies, it works well enough for this one. There are no lofty ideas or motivations here to fill the spaces between fight scenes, nor would they feel fitting if they were here.

The problem is, for a movie that aspires only to be a collection of kickass fight scenes, there's not nearly enough variety in those fight scenes. You'd certainly think the film had the right people for the job; it was directed by Chad Stahelski (and an uncredited David Leitch). Though the two are first time directors, they've worked as stunt coordinators on numerous previous films. In particular, they've worked in the past with Keanu Reeves, even doubling for him on The Matrix films. They ought to have a deep bag of tricks built up over decades of experience.

Instead, you see the same handful of moves reordered in fight after fight after fight. I found myself getting particularly bored of "the hero maims one guy with a shot at close range, then holds him while he shoots some other guy, before finishing off the first guy with a shot to the head." Seriously, they showed that move so many times, I feel like you could point a camera at me and I could do it. Thanks to the repetition, the not-actually-long hour and 40 minute movie winds up feeling too long by about 15 minutes.

But the cast does pick up the slack a bit. It's a surprisingly big roster of recognizable faces. Besides Keanu Reeves (not talking much, and he's pretty good at that), there's Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan, and a gallery full of "I know them from..." actors. There's Michael Nyqvist, from the original Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. There's Alfie Allen, Theon from HBO's Game of Thrones. (He gives good weasel.) There's Dean Winters, guest star in many TV series and "Mayhem" in those goofy Allstate commercials. (Ditto.) There's Adrianne Palicki, Bobbi Morse from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (She gives good asskick.) There's Lance Reddick, Broyles from Fringe. There's Ian McChane, Swearingen from Deadwood. But unfortunately, while each actor has fun with their sprinkling of scenes, no one person other than Reeves has enough screen time to really do much heavy lifting.

So it's not the simple aspirations that make John Wick a disappointment, it's the average execution. There are certainly worse action movies, but there are certainly better ones too. I give it a C+.

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