So we're not especially surprised when John Wick -- an assassin and the newly widowed title character of a new movie starring Keanu Reeves -- is pushed back into action.
We are a bit surprised, though, when (and I include this spoiler for the benefit of pet lovers), the dog his late wife gave him to help with grieving is killed by the sadistic son (Alfie Allen) of a Russian crime czar (Michael Nyqvist).
You can do a lot to a guy, but kill his dog? That's a major no-no.
John Wick, which was directed by Chad Stahelski, is a movie aimed at piling up box-office receipts as fast as falling bodies -- and lots of bodies bite the dust in a frenzied helping of violence that harkens back to some of the Hong Kong bloodbaths of the '80s and '90s. Think John Woo, only without as much style and without Chow Yun-Fat.
Reeves has been surrounded by a supporting cast that knows how to sell this kind of brutal gruel. Nyqvist has fun as the apparently judicious father of a son who believes he owns the world, and Willem Dafoe shows up as another hitman.
Plentiful fight sequences are well-orchestrated by Stahelski, who knows how to fulfill genre obligations.
John Wick is the kind of guilty pleasure that takes us back to grindhouse days, and I have no problem with that.
A wish, though: I wish that Reeves could bring at least a hint of subtext to the role. His character may triumph in the end, but the actors playing the bad guys have Reeves beat by a mile.