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"JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2"
(2017) (Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scamarcio) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A formerly retired hitman must contend with all sorts of people wanting him dead after he's forced to carry out an execution.
PLOT:
After some Russian gang members killed his puppy and stole his car (in "John Wick"), former assassin John Wick (KEANU REEVES) came out of retirement to deal with them and those attracted by the $2 million bounty put on him by Russian crime syndicate boss Viggo Tarasov (MICHAEL NYQVIST), all of which resulted in a high body count.

Believing that's behind him, John returns to his home that he shared with his late wife, only to learn that fellow assassin Santino D'Antonio (RICCARDO SCAMARCIO) is demanding that John honor a blood oath marker (stemming from Santino having helped John in the past). John wants no part of that, resulting in Santino blowing up his house and prompting John to travel to the Continental Hotel in New York City. It's a place that caters to assassins and other criminal types and is a sanctuary of sorts where no violence is permitted as deemed by its owner and crime syndicate boss, Winston (IAN McSHANE).

He informs John that he must accept Santino's marker or else lose the support of the syndicate. John reluctantly agrees and learns that Santino's desire is for John to assassinate Santino's sister, Gianna (CLAUDIA GERINI). He isn't happy that their late father gave her his seat in a criminal organization, and thus John travels to Rome to do the deed. But he must then contend with Gianna's right-hand man, Cassian (COMMON), wanting revenge, while Santino has also sent his mute assassin, Ares (RUBY ROSE), to make sure John doesn't make it out alive.

Things get worse for John when another multi-million dollar bounty is put on his head, thus necessitating him to seek out help wherever he can find it, even if that means from his former enemy, the Bowery King (LAURENCE FISHBURNE).

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Once that you've decided on a killing
First you make a stone of your heart
And if you find that your hands are still willing
Then you can turn a murder into art

"Murder By Numbers"
The Police

I have no idea which filmmaker was the first to come up with turning an onscreen murder into cinematic art, but it's certainly a prevalent thing in action films, horror pics, some dramas and even a few comedies. In the old days of filmdom, murders took place off camera, and when they finally were shown in front of audiences, it was about as realistic as when we were kids and would play cops and robbers in the backyard, complete with prolonged, melodramatic deaths.

Then people like Arthur Penn showed the titular criminal duo of "Bonnie and Clyde" meeting their demise in stylish slow-motion, and The Wachowski brothers took that mayhem to another level in the uber-stylized "The Matrix." Nowadays, pretty much anything in such regards can be shown, and filmmakers, actors, stunt performers and special effects crews always try to up the ante in some fashion in order to appease viewer bloodlust.

All of which brings us around to "John Wick: Chapter 2," the sequel to the 2014 film where Keanu Reeves starred as an assassin brought out of retirement by the murder of his puppy (the last gift from his late wife) and theft of his car by some Russian mob thugs. Once the bullets were done flying, the body count was initially reported to be 76, but the film's co-director later stated in an interview that the correct count was 84.

I found the movie okay for an entry in the non-realistic action genre, but stated "no degree of decently staged fight and shooting scenes can cover what's otherwise a mediocre to subpar genre pic." Well, the same holds true for the sequel where, according to producer Basil Iwanyk, "The feeling has always been that we killed 84 people in John Wick and we need to kill more in Chapter 2." According to him, the body count reaches 141 over the film's running time of 122 minutes (which includes several minutes of credits).

Considering that death to minute ratio, this sort of film -- just like its predecessor -- isn't going to be for all viewers. But for those who like their action done in front of the camera (rather than through quick edits) with an obvious need for a tremendous amount of direction, stunt and cinematography choreography, and don't mind everything else being mediocre at best, you could probably do worse than this offering.

In terms of story (the script is by Derek Kolstad), though, it's about on par with the first film and takes places not long after installment numero uno concludes. And that's when we see our reluctant anti-hero dispatching various people to get his beloved car back. Thinking he's done with that and making peace with the Russian mob boss (Michael Nyqvist) -- who knew all too well the H-E-Double Hockey Sticks that was going to be unleashed by wronging Wick -- the hitman returns home.

Now the "you done him wrong" honor goes to another assassin, Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio), who decides to cash in a "favor" that Wick owes him. And that's to kill his sister (Claudia Gerini) so that he can have her seat at some sort of high-end criminal table. Wick refuses, his house gets blown up real good, and he then consults with the wise crime boss (Ian McShane) who runs a sanctuary hotel for such criminal types. Refuse, run or kill Santino and Wick will end up dead.

So, he heads to Rome, the deed is done, and then all sorts of people come out of the woodwork, just like before, to kill the protagonist. Some, such as the bodyguard played by Common and a mute assassin played by Ruby Rose, just want to avenge the murder or follow orders from their boss respectively. Others (pretty much everyone else) want the chance to cash in the $7 million bounty put on his head.

All of which results in lots of fightin' and shootin' and the body count tally rising throughout. Alas, a cinematic reunion of sorts (albeit playing different characters) between Reeves and Laurence Fishburne isn't as exciting as it initially seems it might be and ultimately doesn't change anything.

There's no denying that there are some amazing action scenes (with Chad Stahelski behind the camera again), and that at the not quite spry age of 52, Reeves (much like Tom Cruise) can still make this sort of action quite believable. But by upping the mayhem, punches, kicks, gunshots and, ultimately, the body count, the film starts to lose -- ahem -- some of its punch.

That's especially true as the increased volume of violence slowly turns the film-going experience into something akin to watching a computer-generated protagonist in a bloody, first-person shooter video game where there's kill after kill after kill. That's evident in some of the bigger action sequences where the setting (catacombs under Rome, a museum in New York City) has the look and feel of the same in those sorts of FPS video games.

Those jazzed by the near doubling of bodies (who also probably play such games) probably won't mind. But a good, let alone great, action film needs something more than just exaggerated and highly choreographed demises. "John Wick: Chapter 2," fails to deliver on that front and thus its attempt to turn murder into art registers about the same as its predecessor. It rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed February 7, 2017 / Posted February 10, 2017


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