The most charismatic character in “John Wick” dies 10 minutes into the film. Once Daisy the beagle-mix puppy gets bludgeoned, nothing remains but 90 minutes of senseless, stylishly filmed slaughter by a nondescript man killing other nondescript men.
Derek Kolstad’s script breaks down in the first long scene and never recovers. Wick (Keanu Reeves) stops for gas at a station in suburban New Jersey in his vintage Mustang. Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), spoiled son of Russian gangster Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), offers to buy the car on the spot. Wick refuses, so Iosev and two bodyguards come to his house to steal it, beating him senseless and slaying Daisy.
They don’t kill him, though there’s no reason not to. They don’t even recognize him, though he spent years as Viggo’s most feared hit man before retiring recently. They drive off moronically, leaving him to recover and stab, strangle or shoot dozens of people.
Kolstad embraces every cliche of this genre: The strong thug father with a weak son; the antihero who tries to put his past behind him but has to dredge up his weapons; the baddies who repeatedly have Wick in their power – even when he’s unconscious – but allow him to get away, instead of putting a bullet in the back of his skull at once. (We just saw this plot last month in “The Equalizer,” and Keanu Reeves is to Denzel Washington what Daisy is to a Doberman Pinscher.)
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Director Chad Stahelski, Reeves’ former stunt double, shoots the action sequences with fluid efficiency, even remembering to have his hero reload. But they’re no more realistic than in any other action film: Wick knows where every enemy lurks, and he rebounds within minutes from beatings that would put Thor in the hospital.
Stahelski and Kolstad have one good idea: Assassins gather at The Continental, a New York hotel that’s meant to serve as a death-free zone for killers. But they don’t do much with the concept, and we’re soon back on the streets amid hailstorms of bullets.
Reeves has two emotional moments, one where glycerin tears streak his cheeks and one where he rages like a pubescent boy. Otherwise, he wears the same indifferent, slightly cocky expression that has sustained him through more than 50 films. You might think, after 30 years as an actor – well, no, I suppose you wouldn’t.