'John Wick' (R)

Where have you gone, Keanu Reeves? With the exception of two movies released late last year that no one saw (47 Ronin and Man of Tai Chi, his directorial debut), Reeves hasn’t starred in a film since 2008’s The Day the Earth Stood Still. Watching Reeves punch and kick and shoot his way through John Wick, a generic but well-crafted shoot-’em-up, you’re reminded what a great action star he is — balletic, graceful, athletic and always in the moment. Unlike, say, the cast of The Expendables, who seem to be wondering whether they remembered to turn off the coffee maker that morning in every shot, Reeves invests himself fully as a retired hit man who runs afoul of some Russian mobsters.

Yes, we’re back in the land of improbable gun fights, thick accents and goonish villains, just like we were during all those forgettable action pictures from the 1980s. Reeves is the only one on screen who comes close to resembling an actual person, and he’s practically superhuman. First-time co-directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski are former stuntmen who know how to stage an effective fist fight, but the movie is so thin and lightweight it makes Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer seem like an Oscar contender (at least that movie has a fresh gimmick). After what Gareth Evans accomplished in the astonishing The Raid 2: Berandal, the bar has been raised for crime thrillers. You have to bring something new to justify your place at the table, and John Wick is all remixed leftovers.

Still, there is Reeves, the rare sort of action star who seems capable of doing what his character does in real life (watch the smooth way in which he replaces empty clips on his guns while trading fire with the bad guys). John Wick reminds you what a bracing presence he can be when matched with the right role (Point Break, The Matrix, Speed, Constantine). Why has he been sent to Hollywood jail?

In interviews, the actor has stated that the offers just stopped coming after The Day the Earth Stood Still flopped, as if the film’s failure had been his fault. John Wick reminds you this actor deserves better. Reeves makes the movie entertaining in a background-noise way, but he can’t give it any gravity, even when the filmmakers pull the cheapest trick in the book to get the audience to root for the hero and hiss at the Eurotrash villains. Someone get this man some good work, quick.

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters.

Directors: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski.

Screenwriter: Derek Kolstad.

A Summit Entertainment release. Running time: 101 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.

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