Do you like watching people get shot in the head?
I mean, really like it, like you can’t get enough of it?
If the answer is yes, then sprint to your local movie theater to glory in the excess of “John Wick: Chapter 4” (R, 169 minutes, in theaters). This movie must hold the new record for kill shots to the noggin.
For anyone who has seen any of the three previous “John Wick” flicks, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The franchise – starring Keanu Reeves as a former hit man who kills and kills and then kills some more – is built on ludicrously over-the-top violence.
“Chapter 4,” directed by stuntman Chad Stahelski, is no exception.
As the fourth chapter of the Wick saga begins, our titular hero is marked for death by the High Table, the world’s most powerful criminal organization. (The opening sequence, set in the desert, pulls a double – if not triple – steal from “Lawrence of Arabia.” Not that it really matters – don’t expect Peter O’Toole to make a cameo appearance from the grave. Later, close-up shots of a DJ are an obvious nod to “The Warriors.”)
Friends who shelter – or fail to kill – Wick put their own lives in danger. These include the owners of swank hotels that cater to underworld figures: Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada) of the Osaka Continental and Winston Scott (Ian McShane) of the New York Continental.
Another old pal, Caine (Donnie Yen), is blackmailed by a high-ranking High Table member (Bill Skarsgard) into accepting the assignment to eliminate Wick. If he doesn’t take the job, Caine’s daughter will suffer the consequences. A bounty hunter known as Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), who partners with a vicious dog, also is on Wick’s trail.
This is just for starters. The plot gets increasingly complicated as Wick seeks a way out of his predicament.
The story is definitely not the thing, though. The John Wick saga is all about style, not substance. The endless, elaborately choreographed martial-arts scenes are designed to satisfy the most ardent of action aficionados. And in keeping with its neo-noir approach, everything in every frame – the costume design, the makeup, the settings (in Paris, Berlin, etc.), the cinematography – creates a look and atmosphere of cool.
That goes for the characters, too, whether it’s the badass hero himself, with his slick, long black hair, tailored black suit and tough-guy grimace; the unflappable sophisticate Winston; or even the High Table henchmen, who might all be destined to die, but will look sharp in the coffin.
The coolest of the cool? That has to be Yen’s Caine. He’s blind, and uses a cane to make his way around. But that doesn’t stop him from being Wick’s equal, if not superior, when it comes to taking on all comers. And he does it with such panache, even stopping for a quick noodle dish in the middle of a particularly intense battle.
So, yes, “Chapter 4,” just like the other “John Wick” flicks, is a lot of fun.
But let’s get back to those repetitious shots to the head. They do quickly leave you numb, no matter how “balletic” – or whatever other overused adjective for screen mayhem you want to use – the action sequences are. They become boring after a while.
What is their appeal? Are they meant to titillate the sadistic impulses of the moviegoer? Maybe there’s some thematic explanation. Maybe each shot represents every frustrating obstacle that pops into our lives, one after another, and each bullet to the brain provides a cathartic representation of how we’d like to handle each irritating challenge.
Yeah, maybe. Probably not.
Either way, all of this leaves me with mixed feelings about this movie. It’s entertaining, but to what end?
Speaking of end, stick around through the final credits. A plot hole is filled – sort of. *** (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.