Friday, October 24, 2014

John Wick: Should be snuffed out

John Wick (2014) • View trailer 
No stars (turkey). Rated R, for relentlessly strong, bloody and gory violence, profanity and brief drug use

By Derrick Bang

Vile, reprehensible trash.

Ineptly scripted, badly directed and atrociously acted by the name “star” — Keanu Reeves — who, as one of this tawdry turkey’s executive producers, likely is the only reason it got made in the first place.

Having reached this point in his vengeance-fueled crusade, Wick (Keanu Reeves) hasn't
killed anybody for at least 5 seconds ... so it must be time to shoot another nameless
thug in the face. Wick does that a lot, to rapidly diminishing returns.
The fact that Reeves keeps getting assignments remains a source of amazement; he can’t emote a lick. Indeed, he makes Clint Eastwood look like Laurence Olivier. Reeves lucked into two popular genre franchises awhile back, Speed and the Matrix trilogy, which granted the illusion of A-list credibility.

But everything else he has touched in the past 20 years has bombed, in most cases with ample cause. Really, now ... have you even heard of Hard Ball, Ellie Parker, Thumbsucker, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Generation Um... or Man of Tai Chi, let alone had the opportunity to actually watch them? Could anything have been worse that his laughably pathetic efforts at romantic leads, in A Walk in the Clouds or the ill-advised remake of Sweet November?

Is it perhaps time to wonder how much better both Speed and the Matrix movies might have been, with a better lead actor?

Reeves never offers anything beyond a grim scowl apparently intended to convey a wealth of emotion. Far from it; he simply seems smug and contemptuous ... and not necessarily within the parameters of the part he’s playing. It looks, sounds and feels more like a deliberate absence of acting: a smirky sense of superiority, as if he’s delighted to once again make a pot of money for doing no work whatsoever.

I’m not sure which would be worse: that Reeves knows he has scant talent, and keeps trying to fool us into believing otherwise ... or that he truly has no talent at all, but has failed to recognize as much. Still. All these years later.

He also needs to wash his hair more often. And get a better style to begin with.

Sadly, when it comes to no-talent behavior, Reeves has plenty of company in this revolting excuse for a revenge thriller. John Wick is “directed” — and I employ the term in the loosest possible sense — by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, both of whom have impressively long Hollywood résumés ... as stunt and action coordinators.

Leitch and Stahelski apparently believed that they had learned something, operating under the guidance of other directors for the past two decades.

They believed incorrectly.

Some movies signal their gawdawfulness from the first scene; John Wick is just such a disaster. Our protagonist — that would be Reeves, as the title character — stumbles out of a vehicle, apparently mortally wounded, and uses blood-smeared fingers to swipe his smart phone to a familiar video. The image of his True Love (Bridget Moynahan, in the most thankless role I’ve seen in awhile) speaks to him again, from some sunny, long-ago afternoon.

Reeves responds with a look that suggests constipation.

And then, whoop, we cut away to some other time, some other place, as a hale and hearty Wick wakens on an average morning. Yes, the whole movie to come is a flashback, although Leitch, Stahelski and scripter Derek Kolstad don’t really make that clear. And the prologue “tease” is a tired, clumsy cliché that should have been retired decades ago.

We’re then treated to a lengthy, poorly constructed montage: stitched together with bad edits and camera angles that defeat themselves by (for example) cutting across the axis ... a rookie mistake that inevitably disorients viewers, even if they couldn’t explain why.

Actual exposition is absent, because nobody says anything.

“Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Constant Companion muttered to me, at about this moment, “and Reeves won’t talk during the entire film.”

Nice thought, but no; not quite.

Back-story, of a sort, comes slowly. Wick is a retired hit man who once worked for Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist, remembered from much better work in the original Girl with a Dragon Tattoo trilogy), a brutal Russian mobster who nonetheless feared his assassin’s devotion to duty.

“John Wick,” Tarasov says to an associate at one point, and thus to us, “is the Boogeyman.”

This verbal explanation is accompanied by on-screen text — think redundant subtitles, since everybody speaks English — that punctuates certain words with larger, different-colored fonts. I loathed this gimmick when director Tony Scott debuted it in the 2004 Denzel Washington thriller, Man on Fire, and it’s just as obnoxious here.

At random moments throughout John Wick, for no particular reason, a character’s dialogue is accompanied by this on-screen text. The intended effect, I’ve no doubt, is dramatic emphasis: PAY ATTENTION TO THIS LINE.

The actual result is irritation. Indeed, Leitch and Stahelski do everything possible, at all times, to make watching their film an unpleasant experience, above and beyond the stupid script and leaden, deadened “acting.”

But I digress.

Wick was lucky; he found True Love and successfully escaped the life. (One does wonder what, if anything, he told his True Love. Needless to say, this script doesn’t bother to address that.) But, alas, fate was unkind; she died. Now he’s alone, going through the motions, trying to find a reason for getting up each morning.

He gets one, thanks to a chance encounter with three thugs who follow him home, beat him up, steal his beloved 1969 Mustang and ... do something even worse. Much worse. Drive-people-from-the-theater-in-disgust worse.

Wick easily learns the identify of his attackers, and discovers that — oh, dear — the primary thug is Tarasov’s son, Iosef (Alfie Allen, playing the same sort of smarmy worm he has turned into a minor career, as Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones). Iosef didn’t know who he was mugging; it’s just a bad coincidence.

Tarasov, recognizing what’s likely to happen next, tries a “boys will be boys” approach with Wick. No dice. Wick wants Iosef’s head on a plate; Tarasov won’t deliver. Cue the next 85 minutes of senseless mayhem and slaughter.

Which immediately begs the obvious question: If Wick is as accomplished a killer as this film relentlessly insists — his blazing guns exploding enemy heads like so many overripe cantaloupes — then why were Iosef and his two friends able to get the drop on him so easily, in the first place?


The subsequent havoc expands to involve Marcus (Willem Dafoe), also a career assassin whose preferred weapon is a sniper rifle; and Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki), a sexy killer who may have some history with Wick, but now relishes the opportunity to take him out.

What follows is repetitious in the extreme: tedious, offensive and meaningless. Really, how many times can we watch goons get shot in the face? By Leitch and Stahelski’s standards, the answer would appear to be “Several hundred.” And no, I’m not exaggerating.

The few brief times Wick isn’t slaughtering people, he and Tarasov exchange banal philosophical blather about how they’re two of a kind: the sort of risible bad-guy dialogue that recently sank Cormac McCarthy’s ludicrous script for The Counselor, and sounds just as ridiculous here.

I’ll credit Kolstad’s script with one clever element: The Continental, an ultra-posh hotel at the heart of New York’s underworld, where deals and contacts can be made, but civility must be maintained. Bad behavior — i.e. assaults ’n’ killings ’n’ stuff — must be taken outside. The place is run by Winston (Ian McShane), with Lance Reddick making a strong impression as the manager, who goes by the name Charon (a nice nod to Greek mythology).

McShane, Reddick and the whole concept of The Continental are way cool ... but they’re utterly wasted amid the rest of this dreck.

Finally, the greatest irony: Previous experience would suggest that, if nothing else, Leitch and Stahelski would deliver a boatload of great action sequences. Not hardly. Reeves — and his stunt double — jump and bounce a lot, but most of the melees are standard-issue running and shooting, neither special nor the slightest bit entertaining for their own sake. They’re also mostly executed at night, or in darkened settings, so it’s impossible to see, let alone appreciate, whatever smooth moves might have been choreographed.

This pathetic excuse for a movie deserves to be screened in only one setting: film school classes, as a warning against everything one should not do.

John Wick may not be the worst movie Hollywood unleashes this decade ... but it’ll do until that one comes along.

No comments:

Post a Comment