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"JOHN WICK: CHAPTER FOUR"
(2023) (Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A former hitman must fend off the criminal organization and various assassins who want him dead.
PLOT:

Following the events of the last film, former hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is still a wanted man by The Table, the criminal organization that formerly employed him. Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), a senior Table official, isn't pleased that Winston Scott (Ian McShane) previously failed to kill John and thus strips him of his managerial position at the Continental Hotel that he then destroys.

Along with his right-hand man, Chidi (Marko Zaror), the Marquis wants John dead and thus hires legendary but blind assassin Caine (Donnie Yen) -- John's former associate and friend -- to do the job, and they have their first violent encounter at the Osaka Continental that's run by Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his adult daughter, Akira (Rina Sawayama).

At the same time, John must contend with any number of other hitmen who want to collect the bounty on his head, including seemingly the most formidable of the bunch, a man known as Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson).

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

There are a few exceptions to the following rule that I apply to most movies, but, in general, the higher the Roman (or any other) numeral in a sequel's title, the shorter the running time should be. That's it. Pretty simple to grasp, and it doesn't mean five or ten minutes each time -- which would otherwise make some entries in long-running series nothing more than short films.

And yet those behind the "John Wick" movies keep breaking "my" rule. The first film clocked in at 96 minutes, with the sequel adding six minutes to the running time. Installment number three moved the count up to 131 minutes and now the fourth movie in the series adds another half-hour to that total. At this rate, "John Wick X" will be a mini-series on some streaming service.

Don't get me wrong. I've found the flicks decently entertaining for what they are (with the third one being the best of the bunch), but there's no reason for the added minutes as what's present is just more of the same old, same old highly choreographed action mayhem that we've now seen three previous times.

Falling prey to the "bigger must mean better" mindset that often arrives with such sequels, returning director Chad Stahelski and half of the writing team from last time around -- Shay Hatten and Michael Finch -- certainly up the ante in terms of action. And some of those sequences are downright amazing if you're okay with the mega-violence.

But -- and I don't recall feeling this way when watching the previous films -- things stray more than once into getting a bit too ridiculous for both the offering and our viewing good. At only one point does the title character (once again gamely embodied by Keanu Reeves) seem winded after fighting and killing a plethora of people trying to do the same to him.

It gets to the point that everything starts feeling like a superhero movie where such characters take a beating where only a fraction of the impact on their bodies would do in an MMA fighter or Navy SEAL. Alas, it eventually segues into live-action video game mode that even includes Teflon-like business suits somehow stopping hundreds of bullets (where none of those conveniently somehow miss the neck or head).

Some of that video game meets superhero vibe stems from the introduction of another assassin -- surprise, surprise -- who's been put into action by the head villain (a perfectly smarmy Bill Skarsgård) -- to stop Mr. Wick from getting yet another film.

The twist this time, though, is that Caine (Donnie Yen) just so happens to be blind, yet still quite proficient at avoiding bad guys and their bullets while somehow apparently having some sort of Daredevil echolocation that allows him to fight and kill others with precision. At least Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson) feels more realistic, what with his high-caliber rifle and dog sidekick that continues the canine carnage from the last time around.

Am I being a bit too hyper-critical of a film that's sole intention is to entertain us through action? Sure, I suppose, and I have to admit I was entertained more often than I wasn't as it's fun watching Reeves do his thing. It's just too bad the franchise is veering toward the inevitable jumping of the shark (much like the "Fast & Furious" series) by repeatedly heading into "Oh, c'mon man" territory.

And while some of the multi-minute action set pieces are amazing, a lot of material could have been cut out with no ill effect, thus allowing the offering to abide by the high sequel number shorter running time rule. "John Wick: Chapter Four" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Posted March 24, 2023


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