RATING |

Keanu Reeves plays the title character in the trigger-delirious revenge saga John Wick.

The beginning of the film gives no hint of the violence to come. It's almost elegiac in tone, with Bridget Moynahan (Blue Bloods) in a brief, essentially posthumous role as Wick's devoted wife. You'd swear you were watching a tragic jewelry-store commercial.

But then, through a preposterous series of coincidences, Wick is pushed further than a man can bear and excavates the arsenal buried beneath his New Jersey basement.

Once Johnny gets his guns, the film pivots radically into a grim, unrelenting hailstorm of bullets. It's man vs. mob as Wick takes on the swarms of killers sent by Russian crime boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist).

Wick is really after Tarasov's cruel son (Alfie Allen, the pitiful Reek on Game of Thrones). But he has to shoot his way through New York's entire criminal underbelly to get to his target.

Gunplay is to John Wick what submarines were to Das Boot: the essential element. In fact, a more descriptive title would have been Muzzles and Muscle Cars. This movie may have the highest BPM (bullets per minute) index of any film ever made.

Director Chad Stahelski handles the frenzied fusillade with flair. The action scenes in John Wick, while brutal, are also rather breathtaking.

The supporting cast is surprisingly good, including Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, a wonderfully menacing Adrianne Palicki, Dean Winters ("Mayhem" in the Allstate ads), Lance Reddick, and David Patrick Kelly.

Only the two leads disappoint. Nyqvist isn't sufficiently chilling as the villain. Reeves is unconvincing as a predator. The latter has never delivered dialogue well. It turns out he's not too good at laconic either. The final confrontation between the two characters is deflatingly anticlimactic.

But John Wick is a blast - as long as the ammo holds out.

John Wick ** 1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Chad Stahelski. With Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe. Distributed by Summit Entertainment.

Running time: 1 hour, 41 mins.

Parent's rating: R (intense violence, language, drug use).

Playing at: area theaters.EndText

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