USA TODAY International Edition

Reeves’ hard- luck ‘ John Wick’ is as good as ever

- Brian Truitt

“John Wick: Chapter 4” delivers on the ballet of bullets and fiesta of firearms you expect while successful­ly showcasing the dynamic, reluctantl­y unretired title hitman as a real underdog.

And as the saying goes: This dog can hunt.

Keanu Reeves reteams with director Chad Stahelski for one of the better “Wick” films in the consistent­ly impressive action franchise. The hardluck antihero again battles fellow assassins and ambitious power players all over the world in fantastic action scenes, and “Chapter 4” ( ★★★g; rated R; in theaters Friday) also unfurls a bit of Wick’s past so we root for him a little more, especially when the chips are down.

The newest “John Wick” doesn’t bother catching you up but it’s pretty straightfo­rward: Wick was roped back into the hitman game when his puppy was murdered (“John Wick”), killed a rival on the “consecrate­d” grounds of the New York Continenta­l Hotel (“Chapter 2”) – a major no- no – and had a multimilli­on- dollar bounty put on his head (“Chapter 3”).

“Chapter 4” begins with John taking the fight to the High Table, the shadowy group of global crime lords. He kills one of their elders, which puts him on the radar of the Marquis ( Bill Skarsgård). This young and vicious French emissary raises the bounty and sends a variety of killers after Wick, from the mysterious Tracker ( Shamier Anderson) to one of Wick’s oldest friends, blind martial- arts master Caine ( Donnie Yen).

Seeing his only chance for freedom from the Table, Wick challenges the Marquis to a duel in Paris, though just getting to the final showdown takes a herculean effort. Fortunatel­y, our main man is decked out in a kevlar suit plus has an endless supply of ammunition.

Even for an action- movie lover, 169 minutes of “Chapter 4” is a smidge much: You’d never call a “Wick” film chatty but the middle lags. Not that one has to wait long for the next epic action sequence. This one is chock- full of bangers, including a festival of samurai swords in a Japanese hotel, a waterfallf­illed throwdown in a German nightclub, one particular­ly cool fight from a nifty floorplan view, and a most excellent and electrifyi­ng traffic jam at the Arc de Triomphe.

The casting is as on point as the momentous brawls. Ian McShane ( as Winston) and Laurence Fishburne bring a comedic edge as returning Wick allies while the late Lance Reddick provides wise words yet again as Winston’s righthand concierge Charon.

As for the fresh faces, Yen brings a cool cockiness to Caine, Scott Adkins is a hoot as the portly but still deadly exassassin Killa, and Skarsgård is an antagonist­ic gem as the sadistic Marquis.

But, of course, Reeves fuels these movies, giving Wick the usual worldweary charm but with a knowing depth. There’s a hitman “Christmas Carol” conceit at play, as Wick is forced to revisit his past, sees almost a present- day version of himself with Tracker and has a look at his future if he can’t escape the Table’s clutches in Harbinger ( Clancy Brown).

“John Wick: Chapter 4” satisfies on an action- packed level and also makes good on some killer food for thought.

 ?? PROVIDED BY MURRAY CLOSE/ LIONSGATE ?? The mysterious Tracker ( Shamier Anderson) has a very good dog in “John Wick: Chapter 4.”
PROVIDED BY MURRAY CLOSE/ LIONSGATE The mysterious Tracker ( Shamier Anderson) has a very good dog in “John Wick: Chapter 4.”
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