Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (Photo: Lionsgate)

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM
**1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Chad Stahelski
STARS Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry

“The blood is the life!” bellows Renfield in Bram Stoker’s immortal 1897 novel Dracula (and uttered by Drac himself in Coppola’s trippy 1992 film version). Were John Wick not a man of few words — he is, after all, played by the typically taciturn Keanu Reeves — he might be found spouting such a line in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, the latest entry in the series about a former hitman whose puppy love has led him to kill scores of evil assassins who don’t share his soulfulness or sensitivity. After all, here’s a franchise that is most alive when someone is getting brutally beaten, bludgeoned, or bullet-riddled — if one were to scoop up all the blood shed over the course of all three pictures, it would fill that Shining elevator a thousand times over.

Chapter 3 picks up immediately where Chapter 2 ended, with Wick now deemed “excommunicado” after killing a deplorable villain on the grounds of the Continental, one of the hotels tagged as a “safe zone” for anyone who steps inside its doorway. With a $14 million price tag on his head, Wick can’t slow down for a minute, as seemingly every New York street is crawling with killers eager to claim the grand prize. Thus begins Wick’s labyrinthine plot to save himself by calling in favors and placing himself in a position to extricate himself from a seemingly impossible situation. Among those who reluctantly agree to help him is Sofia (Halle Berry), a former colleague now residing in Casablanca alongside her two magnificent German Shepherds. Meanwhile, those who assisted Wick in the past — namely, the dapper Continental manager (Ian McShane) and the omniscient street king (Laurence Fishburne) — face their own day of reckoning after they receive a visit from the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), a member of the ruling criminal organization The High Table.

The first two John Wick flicks have been hailed as modern action classics in some circles, and I expect this latest entry will follow suit. Yet as I noted in my review of Chapter 2, it’s hard to share this opinion when comparing these efforts to The Raid twofer, which almost make the action sequences in the first two Wick pics look like Driving Miss Daisy outtakes by comparison. Reeves and director Chad Stahelski apparently agreed with my assessment, since Chapter 3 includes a lengthy sequence in which Wick engages in hand-to-hand combat with two of the actors from The Raid series, Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arf Rahman. The scene is spectacular — in fact, most of the action set-pieces that rely on the characters getting up close and personal are phenomenal. Particularly invigorating is the early scene that finds Wick and his assailants surrounded by cabinets containing all manner of knives, hatchets and the like — the pacing and choreography in this sequence is peerless.

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Keanu Reeves and Halle Berry

Unfortunately, for every scene in which Wick uses his hands, there’s one or more in which he uses guns — and, as with the previous pictures, it’s these scenes that strip the film of its vibrancy, with the momentum replaced by tedium. As before, there’s a numbness in witnessing Wick repeatedly flip around an opponent, punch him down, shoot him in the stomach or groin, and then fire into the head two or three additional times — this occurs with even greater frequency than Gary Coleman quipping, “Whatchu talkin’ about, Willis?” over the course of eight seasons on Diff’rent Strokes. To further quote from my John Wick 2 review (and, boy, was the resultant hate mail over this snippet quite colorful with the profanity!), “Gun fetishists will adore this film, as more time is spent lovingly mulling over the characteristics of individual weapons than on anything else. NRA members are best advised not to leave the K-Y at home.” Fortunately for those of us not enamored with firearms as phallic replacements, Chapter 3 is less dependent on fawning over the artillery at hand, one of the reasons it emerges as the best of the series thus far.

The other reason is because of the new characters introduced to the fold. Martial artist Mark Dacascos brings a startling cheery demeanor to his role as an assassin who professes his admiration for Wick even as he tries to off him, while Berry matches up nicely with Reeves as the mystery woman from Wick’s past (even so, she and everyone else are overshadowed by her character’s dogs, who prove to be equally adept at tackling the bad guys in gory style). Dillon is the sort of villain audiences love to hate — she’s hissable in every respect — while Anjelica Huston turns up as a high-powered criminal whose menacing aura and love for ballet would have pegged her as a natural to appear in the recent Suspiria remake. Among the returning characters, Lance Reddick again brings a welcome measure of sophistication to his part as Charon, the ever-watchful Continental concierge.

Charon, alas, is a key player in a late scene which includes a scarcely credible twist that’s only there to set the stage for a Chapter 4. That’s right: Another one will be happening, and Reeves himself has stated that he wants to make as many as audiences care to watch. Ever the workaholic, Reeves might eventually burn the John Wick candle at both ends, but for now, he remains committed to keeping customers satisfied with his stylized, guns n’ poses franchise.

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