Express & Star

Film Talk: Latest Movie Releases – Keanu returns for fourth outing as hardened hitman

Ah Keanu... For many you will only ever be Neo, yet for some of us you will always first and foremost be Johnny Utah.

Keanu Reeves is back as the titular hitman in John Wick: Chapter 4

Yet the truth is – including The Matrix and Point Break – in your 58 years, you’ve covered quite some ground.

Since a 1989 breakthrough in sci-fi comedy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Keanu Reeves has gone on to star in a variety of flicks – some that have struck gold, some that have dropped like a lead balloon. That said, from Speed and The Devil’s Advocate, to The Gift, The Lake House, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Something’s Gotta Give, the Canadian-born star has been a silver screen stalwart for the last three decades, dipping his toes in almost every genre pool you can think of.

It’s fair to say though that it is probably for his action work that he is most famous, with his decision to take the red pill and star as the lead in The Matrix giving birth to a dark and brooding signature persona that would follow him into flicks such as Constantine and, of course, John Wick. When the 2010s came along the seemingly impossible happened and Reeves was granted another action lead that would become almost as big as Neo. 2014’s John Wick saw our boy Keanu step into the shoes of a retired hitman getting back into the game after the heart-breaking murder of his pet beagle, and he’s been dispensing justice to the scum of the underworld ever since.

Now, nine years and two prior sequels down the line, Mr Reeves is back with director Chad Stahelski for his fourth outing as Wick, and the anticipation has been palpable. But, does John Wick: Chapter 4 hit the target, or with this one, should Stahelski and Reeves have taken the blue pill? Let’s take a look...

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4 (15, 169 mins)

Released: March 24 (UK & Ireland)

It all started with an adorable beagle puppy. Keanu Reeves’ retired hitman first bruised knuckles in 2015 when a Russian playboy and his underlings broke into Wick’s home and killed an innocent pet pooch – a present from the assassin’s late wife.

This act of senseless brutality lit the fuse on a lucrative film franchise helmed exclusively by Chad Stahelski, which has upped the action ante with each increasingly soulless instalment, drawing on the director’s extensive background as a stunt performer and co-ordinator.

Breathlessly choreographed violence bludgeons plausibility and character development to a bloody pulp in John Wick: Chapter 4.

The bloated fourth outing boasts some of the most outrageous set pieces of the series, including bone-crunching hand-to-hand combat in a Berlin nightclub and some frenetic fisticuffs amidst the fast-moving traffic on Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris, which encircles the Arc de Triomphe.

By the time Stahelski’s picture enters its third hour, we’re exhausted and wearily echo the sentiments of Killa (Scott Adkins), a corpulent member of Germany’s High Table, when he growls at the seemingly indestructible title character, “Why don’t you just die?”

Storyline and logic are secondary concerns to screenwriters Shay Hatten and Michael Finch.

They prioritise death and destruction over dialogue except for a loquacious chief villain played by Bill Skarsgard, who prefers words as weaponry to avoid blood spatter on his dapper waistcoats.

Wick (Reeves) still has a sizeable bounty on his head courtesy of the High Table, which controls organised crime across the globe, so the hitman lays low in New York with crime boss the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne).

The Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Skarsgard) spearheads the High Table’s unfinished business with Wick and he tightens the noose by shutting down the New York Continental Hotel managed by Winston Scott (Ian McShane), the only safe haven in the city for hitmen and the criminal fraternity.

Flanked by right-hand thug Chidi (Marko Zaror), the Marquis blackmails blind assassin Caine (Donnie Yen) into joining the hunt for Wick, and a nameless contract killer (Shamier Anderson) and his attack dog also answer the call.

As enemies converge, Wick learns from Winston that he can be free of the insidious High Table by challenging the Marquis to a duel.

According to tradition, a challenger must be aligned with one of the High Table’s 12 controlling families so John reaffirms his ties to the Ruska Roma through his adoptive sister Katia (Natalia Tena).

John Wick: Chapter 4 overstays its welcome by at least 40 minutes.

As a showcase of slick stunt work, the fourth picture cannot be faulted but connective tissue that binds the muscular fight choreography is disappointingly weak and Reeves’ sharp-suited title character is monosyllabic for extended periods. Stahelski gives us more and it’s simply too much.

INFINITY POOL (18, 118 mins)

Released: March 24 (UK & Ireland)

Mia Goth as Gabi Bauer and Alexander Skarsgard as James Foster in Infinity Pool

Since his acclaimed debut feature Antiviral in 2012, Canadian writer-director Brandon Cronenberg has demonstrated a similar taste in hallucinogenic sci-fi horror to his father David.

Mind-bending madness percolates in Infinity Pool, a savage, blood-soaked satire about flagrant abuses of power that gleefully contemplates the moral ramifications of the wealthy elite creating clones to take the fall for their heinous transgressions including manslaughter and murder.

Cronenberg’s script cranks up the gore-slathered delirium to fever pitch for a stomach-churning finale that pulls no punches with viscera and graphic images of mutilation underlined by the ominous chords of composer Tim Hecker’s score.

The writer-director also delivers a blitzkrieg of full-frontal nudity and on-screen sexual activity.

Anyone of a nervous or squeamish disposition will need to look away for extended periods as impressive special make-up effects and prosthetics augment Alexander Skarsgard’s unhinged central performance as a creatively blocked writer tumbling down a rabbit hole of nihilism and perversity.

Mia Goth, recently seen in the title role of horror prequel Pearl, is a deliciously creepy sparring partner and her deranged harpy drives the film towards its overblown and divisive climax.

It has been six years since James Foster (Skarsgard) penned a moderately successful debut novel and his creative juices have largely dried up. Thankfully, he married into money and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) bankrolls him as he searches forlornly for inspiration for a follow-up book.

James hopes some quality time with Em on an isolated island resort will jolt him out of a rut. His bruised ego is massaged by fellow guest Gabi Bauer (Goth), who claims to be a fan of his work.

She is staying at the same resort with her architect husband Alban (Jalil Lespert) and they persuade the Fosters to break the rules, which stipulate guests should remain on the compound at all times. Consequently, James and Em join the Bauers on a jaunt into the surrounding countryside.

A night-time drive home with James behind the wheel ends in tragedy and the Fosters learn from a police detective (Thomas Kretschmann) that the punishment for any crime on Li Tolqa is death.

However, the island nation operates a twisted system of justice that permits James to leverage his wife’s wealth to escape personal responsibility for his crime.

Infinity Pool is an uncompromising vision of nauseating excess that is hard to watch and harder to swallow.

Cronenberg refuses to apply the handbrake once his depraved characters spiral sickeningly out of control.

80 FOR BRADY (12A, 98 mins)

Released: March 24 (UK & Ireland)

80 For Brady: Sally Field as Betty and Guy Fieri as himself

Cinemagoers who sit through 80 For Brady will question whether a ramshackle road trip inspired by the true story of the Over 80 For Brady fan club is a fitting vehicle for the combined talents of Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno and Sally Field. Produced by retired quarterback Tom Brady, who appears on screen, director Kyle Marvin’s saccharine ode to sisterly solidarity lacks both the pace and charm of its athletic namesake, orchestrating a series of predictable set pieces such as a trippy interlude with marijuana-infused gummy bears.

A supporting cast including Harry Hamlin, Bob Balaban and Billy Porter are squandered in throwaway, two-dimensional roles, the last of whom portrays the ebullient choreographer of Lady Gaga’s half-time show whose character name – Gugu – masquerades unconvincingly as a punchline.

The central quartet of Moreno, Tomlin, Fonda and Field work tirelessly to enliven a sluggish script by Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern, which fails to convert a single gag.

THE BEASTS (15, 139 mins)

Released: March 24 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

A French couple face hostility from neighbours in a Galician village in a tense thriller directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen.

Antoine (Denis Menochet) and Olga (Marina Fois) feel comfortable in their chosen home of rural northern Spain but the locals consider the couple outsiders.

A focal point for this simmering hostility is brothers Lorenzo (Diego Anido) and Xan (Luis Zahera), who hope to make money from a planned wind farm.

Unfortunately, Antoine and Olga vote against the construction of a wind turbine, sparking full-blooded conflict with the siblings.

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.