Never kill an action hero’s dog! All Hell breaks loose in the sadomasochistic, R-rated, revenge-thriller “John Wick” because the malevolent villains not only steal our hero’s ‘to die for’ vintage 1969 Mustang, but they also murder his dog. Had these unsavory felons had contented themselves with the Mustang, they might have survived the ordeal.
Watching the ferociously violent “John Wick” rekindledmemories of director Antoine Fuqua’s conspiracy theory thriller “Shooter” (2007) where the villains made the fatal mistake of killing Mark Wahlberg’s dog. Bob Lee Swagger, the Wahlberg hero in “Shooter,” cleaned everybody’s clock after he buried his dog. Basically, Keanu Reeves does the same thing to the heartless hooligans who slew his adorable puppy. “John Wick” pits our resilient hero against the malignant Russian mafia infesting New York City like a cancer; much like Denzel Washington did in “The Equalizer.” Most of the ruffians who died in “The Equalizer” perished off-screen, and we were shown their twisted bodies sprawled like blood-stained laundry after the fact. Unlike Denzel’s sympathetic, good-guy vigilante, Keanu Reeves is cast as a retired Russian hitman who exterminates everybody in sight without a qualm. Along the way, our hero has his nose bloodied, his ribs kicked in, and stitches sewn up in his stomach.
“Matrix” stuntman turned film director Chad Stahelski has taken scenarist Derek Kolstad’s formulaic, B-movie screenplay and fashioned it into a cynical, rapid-fire, actioneer with the double-digit body count of Asian director John Woo’s classic “Hard Boiled.” If you haven’t heard of John Woo, then “John Wick” is comparable to the two Gareth Evans’ hard-knuckled, non-stop thrillers “The Raid” (2012) and “The Raid 2” (2014). Kolstad’s larger-than-life script recalls venerable genre classics like the Lee Marvin shoot’em up “Point Blank” (1967) and the hard-as-nails Mel Gibson movie “Payback” (1999). A lone gunman in both “Point Blank” and “Payback” wipes out the mob in a metropolitan city. If you cannot tolerate seeing dozens of gunmen getting riddled with bullets, you should skip “John Wick.” After a string of forgettable, half-baked thrillers and fantasies, including “The Day The Earth Stood Still,” “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee,” “Man of Tai Chi,” and “47 Ronin,” Reeves appears to have recovered his poise with this high body count, pistol opera.
The hard-bitten Keanu Reeves title character hung up his hardware after he fell in love with Helen (Bridget Moynahan of “Battle Los Angeles”), an angel in disguise who saved him from a life of crime. Unfortunately, she succumbed to a fatal illness and died at the hospital with John at her bedside. Before she passed away, Helen has the presence of mind to write a farewell card to her husband and attach it to a pet taxi containing a cute, floppy-eared puppy. Our dry-eyed hero weeps at the memory of his long, lost wife and prepares a place at the foot of his bed for Daisy. One day while Wick is fueling up his Mustang with gasoline, a carload of rude Russians cruise in to the convenience store. One of the Russians, Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen of “Atonement”), admires Wick’s ride and asks him how much he would sell it for. “It’s not for sale,” Wick replies without a second thought. When Iosef mutters in Russian that everything has a price, Wick rebuts him in Russian that his Mustang is not for sale. Later that evening, after he has gone to bed alone, Wick awakes as Daisy starts barking and scampers off the bed and downstairs. No sooner has Wick followed Daisy to investigate the disturbance in his sleek, ultra-modern house than he is knocked down and violently beaten up. The three thieves confiscate his car keys, and Iosef kills poor Daisy. Later, Iosef and his accomplices careen into an automobile chop shop run by Aureilo (John Leguizamo of “Carlito’s Way”) for new papers and a VIN number. Areola refuses to accommodate them. He goes so far as to punch Iosef in the face. Iosef’s father Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist of “London Voodoo”) offers his son a drink and then slams his fist into Iosef’s stomach so his son vomits on the floor. Viggo tells Isoef that Isoef has made a fatal mistake. Viggo explains that John Wick consolidated Viggo’s empire before Wick retired. Viggo witnessed Wick kill three ruffians in a bar with nothing but a pencil. Unfortunately, we don’t see Wick repeat this rather astonishing act. Nevertheless, Wick is a crack shot with any kind of gun and drives a car like a racer. Immediately, Viggo hires the next best hitman alive, Marcus (William Dafoe of “The Boondock Saints”), but sets up the contract on a first-come/first-sell basis for anybody. Like I said earlier, all Hell breaks loose, and everybody relies on the same clean-up crew to mop up the blood, bodies, and broken glass.
Naturally, “John Wick” is barely believable. This is a slam-bang, shoot’em up done with a straight face and a cast of familiar faces dodging bullets in New York City. Everybody wears body armor and packs extra pistols. When John Wick shoots an adversary, he puts at least three slugs in each adversary with a coup de grace to the head. Sure, blood splashes from these wounds, but it isn’t gratuitous like “Saving Private Ryan.” Stahelski stages everything as if he were directing a Spaghetti western. Bodies spin, topple, and stagger. Here and there, Stahelski slips in a surprise or two because John Wick may be indestructible, but the Russian mobsters aren’t totally asinine. “John Wick” isn’t strictly about guys with guns. Actress Adrianne Palicki shows that gals can be just as lethal with firearms, too. British tough guy Ian McShane of “Deadwood” fame makes a memorable appearance as the owner of an off-limits nightclub motel who doesn’t cater to killers killing killers on his premises. Although it isn’t wholly original and is often predictable, “John Wick” qualifies as a sizzling saga with slimy villains and lots of kinetic, bullet-piercing action.

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