For a re­view of “John Wick,”

The Republican Herald - This Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

Where have you gone, Keanu Reeves? With the ex­cep­tion of two movies re­leased late last year that no one saw (“47 Ronin” and “Man of Tai Chi,” his di­rec­to­rial de­but), Reeves hasn’t starred in a film since 2008’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

Watch­ing Reeves punch and kick and shoot his way through “John Wick,” a generic but well- crafted shoot-’em-up, you’re re­minded what a great ac­tion star he is — bal­letic, grace­ful, ath­letic and al­ways in the mo­ment. Un­like, say, the cast of “The Ex­pend­ables,” who seem to be won­der­ing whether they re­mem­bered to turn off the cof­fee maker that morn­ing in ev­ery shot, Reeves in­vests him­self fully as a re­tired hit man who runs afoul of some Rus­sian mob­sters.

Yes, we’re back in the land of im­prob­a­ble gun fights, thick ac­cents and goon­ish vil­lains, just like we were dur­ing all those for­get­table ac­tion pic­tures from the 1980s. Reeves is the only one on screen who comes close to re­sem­bling an ac­tual per­son, and he’s prac­ti­cally su­per­hu­man. First-time co-direc­tors David Leitch and Chad Sta­hel­ski are for­mer stunt­men who know how to stage an ef­fec­tive fist fight, but the movie is so thin and light­weight it makes Den­zel Wash­ing­ton’s “The Equal­izer” seem like an Os­car con­tender (at least that movie has a fresh gim­mick).

After what Gareth Evans ac­com­plished in the as­ton­ish­ing “The Raid 2: Beran­dal,” the bar has been raised for crime thrillers. You have to bring some­thing new to jus­tify your place at the ta­ble, and “John Wick” is all remixed leftovers.

Still, there is Reeves, the rare sort of ac­tion star who seems ca­pa­ble of do­ing what his character does in real life (watch the smooth way in which he re­places empty clips on his guns while trad­ing fire with the bad guys). “John Wick” re­minds you what a brac­ing pres­ence he can be when matched with the right role (“Point Break,” “The Ma­trix,” “Speed,” “Con­stan­tine”). Why has he been sent to Hol­ly­wood jail?

In in­ter­views, the ac­tor has stated that the of­fers just stopped com­ing after “The Day the Earth Stood Still” flopped, as if the film’s fail­ure had been his fault. “John Wick” re­minds you this ac­tor de­serves bet­ter.

Reeves makes the movie en­ter­tain­ing in a back­ground- noise way, but he can’t give it any grav­ity, even when the film­mak­ers pull the cheap­est trick in the book to get the au­di­ence to root for the hero and hiss at the Eu­ro­trash vil­lains. Some­one get this man some good work, quick.

“John Wick,” a Sum­mit En­ter­tain­ment re­lease, is rated R for vulgar lan­guage, vi­o­lence, gore, adult themes. Run­ning time: 101 min­utes.

“St. Vincent”

For all the boozed and abu­sive amuse­ment pro­vided by the great Bill Mur­ray in the good-enough “St. Vincent,” the mo­ment I liked best was Naomi Watts as a preg­nant Rus­sian strip­per, man­han­dling a vac­uum across the Mur­ray character’s an­cient car­pet. In movies as in life, it’s the lit­tle things.

In another scene, the al­co­holic, mis­an­thropic Viet­nam vet played by Mur­ray is lock­ing horns with a snippy young teller at his bank. In frus­tra­tion Mur­ray thunks his fore­head against the glass. Two seconds in length, scripted or im­pro­vised, it’s the sort of punc­tu­a­tion any com­edy needs.

Plenty in writer-di­rec­tor Theodore Melfi’s slick fea­ture de­but can be ac­cused of over­state­ment and rib-el­bow­ing. The broader visual com­edy lacks fi­nesse. But the ac­tors win out. Even “St. Vincent’s” cli­mac­tic, full-on yank at our heart­strings can be for­given be­cause, well, Mur­ray’s in it. And his co-stars like­wise know ex­actly what they’re do­ing ev­ery sec­ond.

Melfi’s film is less slap­sticky than its trail­ers sug­gest. In a cor­ner of Sheepshead Bay, Brook­lyn, N. Y., mirac­u­lously de­nuded of hip­sters, Vincent lives a small life, rack­ing up gambling debts, drink­ing too much, re­gret­ting his ac­tions even as they’re hap­pen­ing. Then newly sin­gle Mag­gie (Melissa McCarthy, plainly re­lieved not to be play­ing a shrill car­i­ca­ture) moves in next to Vincent with her pret e r nat­u­rally wise and ma­ture 12-year-old, Oliver (Jae­den Lieber­her). Mag­gie needs child care; Vincent says he’ll do it for $11 an hour; the rest of “St. Vincent” is taken up with the Mur­ray character’s no­tions of ef f ec­tive men­tor­ing, which in­volve the horses, the bloody van­quish­ing of neigh­bor­hood bul­lies and an un­likely friend or two.

There’s a sweet­ness to the re­la­tion­ships, whether you be­lieve those re­la­tion­ships or not. Watts’ character, a some­time call girl, has a grudg­ing af­fec­tion for Vincent. Chris O’Dowd as one of young Oliver’s Catholic school in­struc­tors may be overqual­i­fied for this sup­port­ing role, but his blithe charisma light­ens each of his scenes.

Melfi’s train­ing in com­mer­cials comes through in “St. Vincent.” His mon­tages are de­signed for short­hand sto­ry­telling, and this is de­ter­minedly main­stream com­mer­cial com­edy, al­beit com­mer­cial com­edy with a strong un­der­tow of sad­ness. How­ever shrewdly han­dled by Mur­ray, the scenes in which Vincent vis­its his Alzheimer’s-ad­dled wife in a re­tire­ment fa­cil­ity nudges the ma­te­rial into darker ter­ri­tory. You may suf­fer whiplash from the more ex­treme of th­ese switcheroos.

And yet, at this point in the 21st cen­tury we may as well de­clare Mur­ray our na­tional per­son, or pres­i­dent for life, or some­thing. His comic and dra­matic tech- nique has mel­lowed into mas­tery. The sad­ness be­hind his eyes is there, even at his most an­tic, and it’s this for­lorn qual­ity that makes Vincent seem like a per­son, as op­posed to a screen­play pitch. Mur­ray has been the life of so many par­ties in the movies, the bur­den may have worn him down a lit­tle.

Yet it’s been use­ful for his act­ing, which doesn’t seem like act­ing at all. If we’re lucky we’ll soon see Mur­ray granted a role as won­der­ful as he is. Mean­time “St. Vincent” will do.

“St. Vincent,” a -We­in­stein Co. re­lease is rated PG-13 for ma­ture the­matic ma­te­rial in­clud­ing sex­ual con­tent, al­co­hol and to­bacco use, and for lan­guage. Run­ning time: 102 min­utes.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.