‘John Wick’: An action-packed enigma

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“He stole John Wick’s car, sir. And killed his dog.”

“Oh.”

This exchange is all we need to know about the film’s titular character. Wick is struggling after losing his wife to cancer. At the funeral, his old friend Marcus pays his respects and the two part ways. Drowning in grief, Wick receives a gift from his deceased wife: a beagle puppy. Their budding friendship is destroyed after the moronic son of a Russian crime boss breaks into Wick’s house and kills the puppy. Without giving away more, know that “John Wick” is at times understated and poignant, and always damn good fun.

Keanu Reeves is an enigma, in that I don’t think anyone — directors or viewers, myself included — has ever really understood him. “John Wick” exploits Reeves’ inherent mystery by limiting his dialogue and revealing his identity through other characters.

Reeves is shaggy, bereft and quietly funny. A film about an obsessive quest for revenge could get tired and sullen, but the directors, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, and Reeves never let that happen. Genuine emotional moments are earned, and even though Wick is gloomy, “John Wick” never takes itself too seriously. Tongue-in-cheek humor reigns and characters play off each other wonderfully.

Wick dispatches his enemies with efficiency and utter brutality, inviting the audience to revel in it, which, of course, I did. The action is clear, energetic, loud and immensely entertaining. It can, however, get a bit monotonous — the body count is astronomical and there are only so many times you can see someone get shot in the head.

“John Wick” may be a shoot-’em-up at heart, but its intriguing universe sets it apart from similar films. It’s a world bound by strict codes and an endearing sense of community. After Wick brutally kills a squad of armed goons in his home, a cop rings his doorbell and asks, “You working again?” To which John replies, “No. I’m just sorting stuff out.” When Wick drives to New York to dole out vengeance, he stays at the Continental, an exclusive hotel for assassins, which forbids its guests to conduct business on the premises. His interactions with the manager and guests are brief, but knowing and comic; they make Wick’s world feel lived in.

While the film’s ending doesn’t quite satisfy, it was well worth the trip, with run time of a mere 96 minutes. If “John Wick” finds its audience, it will almost certainly become a cult classic. Count me in for the midnight showing.