Director: Chad Stahelski (2017) BBFC cert: 15

Keanu Reeves’ career blasts back into black as the sharp suited assassin in this blistering thriller sequel.

It’s a super stylish, extraordinarily violent action spectacular which offers non stop ferocious thrills.

With little fanfare the first film tore through cinema back in 2014, shooting up the box office charts and killing the competition.

It delivered a much needed hit for the ever popular star who was once again in great need of a boost. Reeves has been quite since then but there’s no ignoring him here.

We pick up where the first finished. Having avenged his pet dog and recovered his car from the Russian gangsters who stole it, the multilingual hitman, Wick, is once again looking forward to a peaceful retirement.

But Riccardo Scamarcio’s powerful Italian crime lord makes Wick and offer he can’t refuse. As the villainous, ambitious and smooth talking Santino D’Antonio, he needs his own sister assassinated and Wick owes him a blood debt.

However if Wick succeeds, it will allow D’Antonio to takeover not just Rome, but Wick’s hometown of New York.

The relentless barrage of action sequences combine the sleek sophistication of the James Bond series, the elegant sumptuous design of vampire flicks and the dynamic violence of Asian martial arts movies.

Enabling the short fused Wick to burn the candle at both ends is an armoury of guns, the most cool car, a wardrobe of gorgeous suits, and residence at a chain of high end hotels.

The inventive violence takes place on subways, in catacombs and at parties, ending with a showdown in Central Park.

British actors Ian McShane and Peter Serafinowicz add a touch of class. Reeves’ co-star from The Matrix movies, Laurence Fishburne brings the menace.

The Hollywood union of stuntmen has long agitated for an Oscar to be established to honour their work. If one were to be awarded, the stunt team here would be a shoo in for the thorough shoe-ing their members receive here.

For what they accomplish, I hope their danger money was on double time.



Director: Peter Acencio (2016) BBFC cert 15

Murder and mayhem follow in the wake of a missing moggy in this entertaining action caper.

US TV stars Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key are the cat’s whiskers as lovesick stoner Rell and his overly sensible cousin, Clarence. Their good natured rapport energises the knockabout humour.

Peele co-wrote the script which generates a lot of comic mileage by sending up the LA gangster lifestyle and attitude. This allows for gratuitous nudity and plenty of pistol packing action.

Heartbroken Rell finds new meaning in life when he adopts a cute kitten which he names Keanu. But when a local gangster catnaps his furry friend, Rell and Clarence are forced to impersonate a pair of assassins to get him back.

Unfortunately as Keanu is such an adorable feline, he has more than one claim on his ownership. And everyone has guns. Despite the shoot outs, car chases, hard music, hard drugs and hard language, there’s a surprisingly sweet and law abiding heart at the centre of all the silliness.

So we’re treated to tattooed criminals emoting to the music of George Michael and a drug induced hallucination where Keanu Reeves voices his kitty namesake.

Tiffany Haddish is tough and tender as a gang member and Luis Guzman lends his weight to proceedings as a fearsome crime boss. Plus there’s a samurai sword wielding appearance by actress Anna Faris as herself.


Point Break

Director: Ericson Core (2016)

This shallow remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 surfing cop classic arrives dead in the water, lacking any sense of danger or fun. Or any sense at all.

The wild thrill ride of Bigelow’s action movie has been refashioned as a stumblingly  hyperactive extreme sports eco thriller.

Luke Bracey’s dons Keanu Reeves’ old wetsuit as an extreme sports ‘poly-athlete’ turned trainee FBI agent Johnny Utah. But he lacks the charm, looks and talent of his predecessor.

Edgar Ramírez replaces Patrick Swayze as the enigmatic Bodhi, the nirvana chasing leader of the criminal gang Utah has to bring to justice.

Following the plot of the superior first film, Utah goes undercover to infiltrate Bodhi’s crew of bank robbing, wealth distributing whale huggers.

Showcasing their tatts and abs at every opportunity, they surf, climb and batglide their way around the globe.

It’s as if they haven’t considered a consequence of dropping bundles of banknotes in impoverished rural areas will cause localised hyperinflation and make the residents poorer.

Or put another way, I was so uninvolved with the story I found myself applying economic theory to their actions, rather than cheering an act of audaciously performed philanthropy.

Utah’s backstory relies on a stunt borrowed from Taxi (1998), the not much remembered, Luc Bresson produced, action comedy. One fears this does not bode well for what’s to follow, but sadly said boding is far from adequate.

Director Ericson Core began his career as a cinematographer and it shows. Wearing both hats here he conjures some wonderful images, especially down in the fresh surf and up on the snow.

But as a storyteller he’s woeful, offering ciphers instead of characters who spout appalling dialogue.

The aesthetic is teenage cool, lots of posing in front of burning cars and graffiti’d underground gang hangouts.

Utah carries a Zippo because it’s a cool thing to do. He doesn’t go so far as to carry any cigarettes. Because smoking isn’t cool. Unless you’re offered a toke on a joint, which is edgy and therefore cool and allows for a cool pose.

Ray Winstone growls and tries to make himself useful as overseas FBI agent Angelo Pappas, but he has nothing to contribute to the plot.

Teresa Palmer’s position as bikini clad babe Samsara Dietz is to be leered over by the camera and prove Utah’s heterosexuality. And cook dinner for the chaps.

As a replacement for Lori Petty’s fierce and sculptured surfer from the original, Palmer is hopelessly out of her depth.

Delroy Lindo is Utah’s FBI controller who’s passion is for extreme exposition.

Employing three different editors suggests a reason why the movie feels so piecemeal, it’s a collection of set pieces strung together not a coherent story.

Plus edited in the irritated manner of a music video sells the stunts short. Much longer edits would sell us a frisson of much needed veracity, creating a threat the guys may at some point be hurt.

But as the stunts become bigger and higher, the stakes become lower. We’re not invested in the story and the physics defying leaps possess the dramatic depth of a video game.

There’s an absence of humour and no sense of the film is aware of it’s own preposterous nature.

Flagged up twice is the film’s one interesting idea, that the FBI are acting as the security wing of multinational corporations, inverting the good guy/bad guy dynamic and making Utah the villain.

But it’s not explored in any way and brushed aside in favour of yet more lightweight action.

The stunt team and camera operators deserve plaudits but for everyone else it’s a wipeout.

John Wick

Director: Chad Stahelski (2015)

An assassin goes on an entertaining one-man rampage of revenge in this bloody, brutal and bullet-ridden action thriller.

Filled with blistering action, fast cars and a cute puppy, it’s a slick return to form for Keanu Reeves.

Grieving the death of his wife, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) disses a Russian gangster Iosef (Alfie Allen).

Not a bloke to be dissed by a fifty year-old in stubble, classic sports car and brown leather jacket, Iosef beats Wick up, trashes his apartment, kills his dog and steals his motor.

On any other fifty year old, Wick’s fashion choices could be the sign of a mid-life crisis and but this is Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan, Johnny Utah and Neo – so he can dress how he likes and he’ll always be forgiven.

In flashback we see poor Bridget Moynahan as Wick’s late wife Helen. Despite being seven years younger than her screen husband, Reeves makes her look like a toyboy-chasing cougar. The illness that killed her could have been old-age.

Unfortunately for Iosef, Wick is a retired hitman who used to work for his dad, a beard-stroking villain called Viggo (Michael Nyqvist).

Wick has a killer rep, he once killed three men in a bar with a pencil and is famed for his focus, commitment and sheer will. Nyqvist delivers the word pencil with articulate relish.

To protect his spoiled son Viggo reluctantly puts a $2million dollar bounty on Wicks’ head. Meanwhile Wick is breaking out his arsenal of weapons and is in a bad mood. The muted blues and greys of his house are a stylish representation of his emotional state.

The film plays to Reeve’s strengths by giving him lots of screen-time, great suits to wear, fast cars to drive – and minimal dialogue. Plus he’s at the centre of plenty of crisply choreographed carnage set to a grinding rock soundtrack.

What’s best about John Wick is the script’s nicely created heightened sense of reality, it exists in a parallel universe of coded conversations, rigid rules of engagement, financial penalties and it’s own currency of gold coins the size of doubloons. We only ever see one cop and he apologises for doing his job.

Adrianne Palicki and Willem Dafoe appear as as fellow hitmen Ms. Perkins and Marcus. Her Mrs Peel leather and eyeliner combo adds to the timeless quality of this alternate reality.

Ian McShane saunters through as Winston, a sleazily ambiguous owner of the Hotel Continental where a lot of the action takes place, John Leguizamo has a small role as Aurelio, a mobbed-up garage owner.

The moments of humour are underplayed for the greatest effect. Reeves delivers laconic asides with confidence and there’s a variation on the classic ‘pause in the fight and listen to elevator music’ gag.

Editor Elísabet Ronaldsdottir cuts the action with as many long edits as possible, giving them tremendous dynamism. Reeves may well have used a stuntman but you’d be hard pushed to say where during the hand to hand fighting.

Cinematographer Jonathan Sela captures the ultra-violence in deep wells of light and adds increasing levels of colour as the story progresses – but sadly there’s a lack of poetry in the glossy aesthetic and too little re-invention of action tropes.

We don’t need the traditional sweeping helicopter shots of the city and we’ve seen too many times the rain-soaked night-time fight on the docks. Plus this showdown would be stronger if we considered the two men to be equals – as in Michael Mann’s Heat – rather than a super-assassin putting the hurt on his elderly former boss.

However it’s great to see the likeable Reeves in a well-executed action thriller – he even gets to walk towards the camera with the room on fire behind him in classic action hero style.