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There’s action aplenty in latest ‘John Wick’ film

By Gary Clift

The “John Wick” films are provocative gestures aimed at the makers of December movies like “Collateral Beauty” and “Manchester by the Sea.”

“Soul searching?” the action movies seem to say. “We don’t need no soul searching in our entertainments. Here’s what you ought to be doing.” Not that the folks who thought “Passengers” was as wildly visual as a film was ever going to need to be will ever see the Wick films.

Both of the movies about the all-but-supernaturally- talented contract killer were written as if for a “graphic novel” and directed by a neophyte who got into the business as a stunt man. They both star Keanu Reeves, a guy who has been around long enough to be recognizable in China. “John Wick, Chapter 2” also features Laurence Fishburne, former rapper Common, Bridget Moynahan, Ian “Lovejoy” McShane, and John Leguizamo.

But while “Chapter 2” is heavy with action—I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many people killed one at a time on screen—it isn’t only action. It spends its down time explaining the rules of conduct of the underworld, nonsense the first film opened the door for when establishing the Hotel Continental as a place where killers were not allowed to kill.

That hotel, run by Winston (McShane) is, we now learn, just one of a chain of similar sanctuaries. “Blood Oaths” are now given an institutional meaning. By coming out of retirement in the first movie to seek revenge for the death of his dog and the theft of his Mustang, the master killer has opened himself up to a claim on an old “marker” he gave gang family member D’Antonio.

To get his outfit’s place on the board of directors of organized crime (action fans are sighing as this crud is discussed in the movie), D’Antonio demands that Wick kill the gang family’s current head. Then D’O. can inherit her place on the board. If Wick doesn’t kill her, his failure to live up to his oath will automatically make him the extermination target of all criminals.

Is this action? Is it any fun? Heck no. It is setting up new rules for an already satisfactory game. It is essentially turning the second Wick movie into something law-abiding and static. And silly.

The tone of the first film was already wildly inflated. I mean, our anti-hero kills about a hundred guys after flipping them over his back and stealing their guns. We know this isn’t real life. But that’s why we like it. We want to believe the scales of justice might sometime be tipped in our favor. To heck with the official calibrating.

As is always the case with this sort of rear-ward looking myth building, the stuff about oaths and rules in “Chapter 2” leaves us wondering about how new units fit into the scheme. After Wick has offed the already-suicidal crime-family head in Rome, he returns to NYC to find D’Antonio has put a $7,000,000 bounty on his head.

After killing the hit men who come after him on his way in from the airport, Wick gives a homeless man a piece of gold and asks to be taken to the guy’s leader, Fishburne’s odd character. Apparently the homeless are just another organized crime gang. But whether or not they belong to the umbrella organization, I wasn’t able to tell. And all they seem to do for the killer is give him a gun.

Then we go back to following Wick as he kills his way to the art museum where D’Antonio is waiting for him, in the midst of classical sculpture galleries and one kinetic mirrored installation that gives the film a chance to do the old shoot-out-in-the-fun-house routine.

The action scenes, though, are stylish and interesting. Wick seems to like to wound guys, grab them, use their bodies as shields, and then finish them off with a shot to the head. He also will allow himself to be wounded in order to gain a fighting advantage over a knife wielder.

No. Wick’s OK. Reeves is all right. The fighting’s fine. If we could just get back to the first movie’s lack of institutional rules and forms, “Chapter 2” would be much more amusing than it is.

By the way, compared to something like last year’s “Hardcore Harry,” both the Wick movies are inactive, bloodless, and static. That Russian film makes “Chapter 2” look like a Nicholas Sparks flic.

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