John Wick is a product of his environment yet his choices in terms of his future seem to take on a certain level of vigilante mysticism with a certain lack of logic. The difference between Wick and Neo in many instances is that Wick doesn’t know when he is out of gas…or when to doubt. There is no stopping. The fantastic aspect is that Keanu Reeves is up for anything. This is him through and through in these scenes. While there might be some face replacement, this is mostly all him. Very few people can do this and Keanu is getting older but this demands respect. At one point, even though the film is playing with this idea, his adversaries could have already killed him if they didn’t have as much respect for him as they do. Some of the action scenes including ones with knives and dogs are undeniably thrilling at times. And the film does understand that guns aren’t the “be-all-end-all” is normal circumstance. But at times, one is taken out of the movie because of a certain suspension of disbelief. For instance, there is a gunfight in a horse stable in Manhattan (which is unusual anyway) but when the guns seem to go off there is no response from the horses which causes a break in the world. Hence the viewer can start looking at all of the muzzle flashes being replacements. It takes out some of the visceral nature of the scenes.
It seems more and more with these movies that they are simply just trying to set up the next big set piece to see how far they can push it. But as a result, it feels a little more empty. The first John Wick had itself in play because it was using the Keanu idea and the aspect of the dog with this new world. Interestingly enough, after seeing “Destination Wedding” of all things, there is definitely a growth in the acting department with Keanu. But with this, it all becomes an exercise but weirdly enough it feels like an exceptionally produced TV show at times with the story structure simply allied in place to make it to the next week. Now that said, there is no way some of this action could be done on TV. New York keeps looking more neon coated and wet than ever before so it serves the noir texture. And when Keanu says “I need guns. Lots of guns”, there is no denying the pop culture impact of the original Matrix as in that one line. But the first “Matrix” knew its rules and never broke them (at least in the first film).
The movie jumps a little bit because of this but the aspect that makes the best impression is Halle Berry as a former foe/ally/manager of Wick. This is the coolest we have seen Berry in a while. It reminds one of her films like “Swordfish”. She is bad ass, she is doing the action and, in a scene in the study, she acts the hell out of it, almost overly so. That dynamic offers a bit more to the progression but like all things it is brief. Angelica Huston adds a bit of intrigue and beauty in a role suited to her that gives poise, grace and a bit of darkness. Mark Dacascos as Zero, a frenemy of sorts is also quite good but the tone of play in his performance is both interesting and yet out of character. “John Wick: Chapter III – Parabellum” will no doubt thrill audiences and perhaps bait a third one but the elegance of the original is, in a certain way, lost. The problem, like “The Matrix” is that you don’t want the mythic to become rote. But it also doesn’t need to move to melodrama. And that is one thing John Wick will never bow to.
The essence of the romantic comedy in many ways has been lost to the deluge of blockbuster comic book films and spectacle. Or the comedy tends to be too high concept or borderline gag related without reverting to the simple set up of traditional boy meets girl, boy loses girl…they realize their mistake and find that common ground for a would-be happy ending. The ironic aspect is that one of the people that does have the pulse on the heart of this aspect is Seth Rogen, mostly known for his stoner comedies. There is an every man quality to Rogen but like “Zach & Miri Make A Porno”, “Neighbors” or “Knocked Up”, it is always a trajectory of the underdog. Despite previous co-stars there was always a sense of perhaps pity in a way or a drum tap to play the joke which he gladly takes which is what makes him such a redeemable lead. “Long Shot” works in many structures because he is not the lead here…Charlize Theron is….
This balances it completely since Charlize knows the role she is playing but still brings her intensity to it without being schmaltzy. One actually feels in many points that she is falling for Rogen’s Fred. The set up and the token Rogen set up that slams him to the floor just so he can crawl his way back to her heart is worn, yet tried and true…and feels natural here. The story feels fairly organic in as much as the situation can be which is part of its charm. What however really feels tender and not forced is the small moments between them, either on a couch watching a movie or hanging out after they almost get bombed…and then in the sequence where they actually do get bombed (a necessary Rogen movie trademark). What comes out of that latter sequences is some of Charlize’s loosest spontaneous performances in years…especially one where she defuses a situation hiding behind a desk.
Letting her hair down so to speak seems incredibly freeing since one can still see the icy brilliance of Theron but, by doing this vulnerable comedy, there shows as usual such a wide range in what she can do. The last time there was that vulnerability in such a large way was “Sweet November” but that film was a inherent tragedy. The best dramatic actors can do comedy brilliantly if given the chance and the right script. Most aren’t seen that way or offered. Theron and Rogen are both producers on the film so it seemed a very conscious choice on both their parts to make this film. Theron tried “Gringo” last year in more of a supporting part for what was inherently a dark subversive comedy. The reason “Long Shot” works in many ways but also has some great laugh-out-loud moments is that it is honest and truthful in what it is and makes no qualms about it. It is undeniably romantic in many ways while still being brutally human which sometimes is the hardest thing to pull off. Of course, these movies are bound to have a little melodrama (as this one does at certain points but it is offset by Rogen’s deprecating lines). But that brief schmaltz is just the price of admittance…and that’s OK.
The balance of a buddy movie and a spy thriller can work in tandem if the tone and the script are right on point. The pitch of “The Spy Who Dumped Me” has potential and the pairing of Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon definitely has resonance depending on the improvisational nature given but also the reigning in of specific gags depending on the possibilities. That is where unfortunately this would-be romp falters. Despite some good set ups and action pieces, the delivery falters in much the same way but, distinctly, in more ways, than the similarly affected “Spy” movie did starring Melissa McCarthy. This interrelates to the tone. It is both dark and light at the same time. McKinnon seems to be having fun but her improvs seem not directed at all. An entire sequence near the end of the film featuring her solo seems completely unscripted but not reigned in or directed, and thereby off rails. Kunis seems to be in one movie and McKinnon in another. The film distinctly was made for a price which is understandable but the pace and structure for the most part doesn’t gel. It is only in the final moments when it truly pays tribute to some of the spy structure in almost tongue-in-cheek form does it start to have potential and move. Alas it is the last 3 minutes.
“Lethal Weapon” worked, as a comparison, because you understood how dangerous Martin Riggs (as played by Mel Gibson) was so his humor worked and thereby the tone when his character did more unhinged and unsavory things.. McKinnon’s character needed that edge instead of trying to mug for the camera as much. Her performance in “Ghostbusters” was great simply because it was wild, but honed in its improv. Kunis can play bad ass but the little balances in between are a little more difficult it seems for her. Film acting requires a different kind of structure than television (ditto for McKinnon) but it is scaling up or back. In all specificity, it has to do with direction and tight script. Adding to this point is the almost nihilistic vicious violence which if done right is thrilling but in many ways comes off as brutal.
The movie, as a result, seems stuck in a netherworld where it is neither funny nor inventive, action packed or droll. As far as other characters, the two male co-stars (Sam Hueghan & Justin Theroux) are simply plot devices, which is fine but their inclusion (because neither of them are comedians) makes them invisible at best, grating at worst. Gillian Anderson (again wasted in many considerations within the film) has so much possibility as well. “The Spy Who Dumped Me” is the movie that could have been and, in the final moments, realizes what it needed to be. Too late unfortunately.