'Wick' a slick pic: Over-stuffed action sequel a success of excess

“John Wick: Chapter 4” - ★ ★ ★

What we get in the fourth John Wick action thriller resembles an elaborate microcosm of the entire James Bond film franchise neatly captured in a three-hour, 19-minute experience that feels more like a mere three hours.

“John Wick: Chapter 4” begins as a stylish, tongue-in-cheek thriller like Sean Connery's initial 007 adventures, then slides into its comical Roger Moore period of escalating silliness before awkwardly attempting to regain some degree of the redemptive gravitas that Daniel Craig brought to Ian Fleming's secret agent.

I saw “Chapter 4” with a mixed audience of critics and the public. Based on the laughs, cheers and applause that accompanied many of the artful slaughters set against spectacular, international backdrops, this will indeed be a hit-man hit.

But as the third hour of this Wick-ed thriller looms, the relentless more-is-just-more action approach begins to wear on the eyeballs. If you've seen one really cool headshot with blood spray, you've seen all six zillion of them.

To put it another way, Steve McQueen's iconic car chase in “Bullitt” has been constantly ranked as the first or second greatest chase in cinema history. But would that be the case if “Bullitt” had included 27 more car chases of the same super-slick quality?

Keanu Reeves reprises his role as a ruthless hit man for a secret society in "John Wick: Chapter 4." Courtesy of Lionsgate

In “Chapter 4,” Keanu Reeves returns as the laconic, titular hit man supreme with his axle-greased hair cascading down his cheeks and his automatic pistol now almost a bodily appendage.

After breaching the rules of the High Table's secret society at the New York Continental Hotel, Wick metaphorically owes his soul to the company store, here operated by a fascist brat, the Marquis de Gramont (a sneering Bill Skarsgard, best known as the clown Pennywise from “It”).

Wick has one way to break free of the High Table. He can challenge the Marquis to a sunrise duel in Paris. But if Wick can't get there on time, he will forever be handcuffed to the High Table. The Marquis offers millions of increasing dollars to anyone who stops him.

“Chapter 4” baldly steals inspiration from Walter Hill's “The Warriors” as gangs and gangs of crazy, wannabe assassins pop out of nowhere, all easily dispatched by Wick, who by this time has become invincible, comically falling down an Odessa-Steps-inspired 222-step stone staircase with Inspector Clouseau-like aplomb. (“Chapter 4” lifts its Greek chorus radio DJ from “The Warriors” as well.)

Hong Kong mixed martial arts master Donny Yen musters an unconvincing performance as a blind High Table assassin, Caine, who both assists and attempts to kill his old friend Wick.

Spectacular action set pieces highlight "John Wick: Chapter 4," with a tough and buffed Keanu Reeves back as the laconic, titular hit man. Courtesy of Lionsgate

Other supporting players include an engaging Hiroyuki Sanada as the Osaka Continental Hotel manager, with a lithe Rina Sawayama as his warrior daughter, Laurence Fishburne reprising his once left-for-dead Bowery King, Ian McShane as the veteran New York Continental manager, and the late Lance Reddick, whose unexpected death March 17 imbues this movie with a true sense of loss never anticipated by stuntman-turned-director Chad Staheiski.

As innovative and jam-packed as “Chapter 4” can be, it still relies on tired old theatrical cliches such as characters delivering lines into a window and the John Woo gimmick of two fighting opponents drawing guns on each other - and inexplicably never firing. (“Chapter 4” employs three of these, but Wick fans will hardly care.)

Staheiski's third sequel features dazzling set designs in showcase action sequences (particularly the retina-wrenching, overhead dolls-house view of a building siege) and a functional screenplay that values bullets over words.

Graded by the volume of quality kills, call it a success of excess.

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Lance Reddick, Ian McShane, Bill Skarsgard

Directed by: Chad Staheiski

Other: A Lionsgate release in theaters. Rated R for language, violence. 169 minutes

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