Click on the poster for the official trailer.
"People keep asking me if I'm back and I haven't really had an answer... But yeah, I'm thinking I'm back!"

John Wick (Keanu Reeves)
Keanu Reeves is 50 years old, people... FIFTY years old! Regardless of where you stand on the man as an actor (Reeves is one of a handful of actors that can split the audience into either Love- or Hate-them... Kevin Costner is another), there is no denying the man has aged gracefully. Swarthy good looks and a natural on screen charisma are strong tools in Keanu's belt, but recently the films he has appeared in have struggled to really utilize him to their advantage. With the exception of his own directorial début Man of Tai Chi (an underrated gem that is a mark of true Hong Kong action cinema), Reeves' recent back catalogue has been, quite frankly, a letdown. Thank the Gods of Action Movies for debutante directors Chad Stahelski and (an un-credited) David Leitch - two seasoned stunt and fight co-ordinators - who bring Reeves back into the fold with one of the sleekest, razor-sharp and Goddamn coolest action movies in recent memory.
Economy of narrative is always preferable for a hard-nosed thriller such as this - and here the plot is as lean as they come. When young Russian thug Josef (Alfie Allen) and his gang break into a house, beat up the owner, murder his dog and steal his prized classic sports car, little do they realize the scale of the shit-storm that is about to descend upon them. For not only has the victim's wife recently died from illness and not only was the puppy the last gift he ever received from her, but that the victim is none other than John Wick (Keanu Reeves) - a former assassin and associate of Iosef's ganglord father Viggo (Michael Nvqvist), who angrily informs his idiot boy that this is the man who "you would send to kill the fuckin' Bogeyman"... And now he is pissed. You couldn't have a better moniker than Wick for this guy - a compacted powder-keg that has just had the fuse lit. And Reeves is perfect casting in a film as tailored to him as a Savile Row suit. He captures the lonely heartbreak of a man who has just lost everything in his life that meant something. From the video of his wife that he plays on his phone to the tiny moments with Daisy the puppy, Stahelski & Leitch* give John Wick enough emotional heft to allow the audience to side with this lethal killing machine, then sit back and let the bullets and fists do the talking. They have also built up a nice company of actors to fill this world too - Nvqvist is a blast as the gangster desperately hoping to diffuse our hero by any means necessary, Allen makes a great sniveling punk who really should take heed of his father's concerns, Adrienne Palicki has a lot of fun as a rival assassin looking to take advantage of the tidy price tag on John Wick's head and we have some great cameos from the likes of Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo and Clarke Peters to name a few.

Picture"Everything's got a price."
Writer Derek Kolstad (whose only previous works are a couple of Dolph Lundgren DTV action flicks) shows a deft hand at scripting hard-boiled dialogue and building a believable world of hotels for hitmen and the Rules of the Trade that you break at your peril. The directors build on this strong foundation by using smart, simple camera shots and techniques that always allow the action to speak for itself. Stahelski was Reeves' stunt double on the second Matrix movie and shows supreme confidence in Keanu's physical abilities - confidence that is rewarded many times over. It feels like a real breath of fresh air when an action star is allowed to demonstrate their natural prowess without the aid of camera and CGI trickery - here, everything is done in-camera with skill and precision. Not since the first Taken movie have we seen action so stripped down and visceral. And the biggest one-up this movie has over Liam Neeson's exploits is that while the directors may relish the violent carnage on screen, they do so with an unmistakable knowing wink in their eyes. One particular highlight for singling out must be a barnstorming set piece in a nightclub, where Wick zeroes in on his prey like a hawk. This whole set-up is ridiculous and they know it - Wick reloading his gun mid-execution is a fine example of this. And they wear their influences like badges of honor - the film has all the style and manners of a John Woo Hong Kong bullet ballet whilst deep in its core runs a stark isolation that is pure Walter Hill modern Western (one of Hill's regulars David Michael Kelly even has a plum role as the clean-up man of choice for hitmen). And best of all is that all of this is kept at a brisk 101 minutes running time - in my humble opinion, the perfect length for any movie. John Wick has taken its time in crossing the Atlantic (the US release was back in October last year), but for us UK action fans it has most certainly been worth the wait...

(* Sounds like an awesome 70's cop show!)

A 100% pure genre masterpiece, John Wick see Keanu Reeves return in style to the action hero role that defined him for a whole generation. Slick, efficient and powerful in its design, it is hardly a surprise to hear that a sequel is already in the works. Already one of the best films of 2015 - and if you want to argue otherwise, you can take it up with John... Personally, I'd advise against it!
Click on the poster for the original trailer.
"You Ready, white boy?! Pepper spray, bitch - Prison School is in session!"

Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart)

There is no getting away from it... Here is a missed opportunity. Teaming motormouth comic-du-jour Kevin Hart with frat-boy legend Will Ferrell should have been comedy alchemy. Pair them up with writer Etan Cohen (he of Tropic Thunder and Idiocracy fame) making his directorial début and a prime topic for satire - the ever-growing divide between the Haves and Have-nots - and the result should have provided with one of the best comedies in years. Sadly, the result is a hit-and-miss affair that largely substitutes humor for thinly veiled homophobic and racist "jokes". It is not with a few charms, but you have to wade through an excess of underlying hate-laced gags to get there.
PictureNo Baths in jail?!
The film's premise is a pretty nice one too. With only 30 days before he must report to the San Quentin on charges of fraud, millionaire James King (Ferrell) hires Darnell Lewis (Hart), the guy who valets his car, to train him up in order to survive 10 years in the big house. Thanks to a little race-related misunderstanding, King believes Lewis has been to jail and is the perfect guy to teach him about life inside. And Lewis is happy to go along with it, as the money King will pay him will allow him to move his family out of the ghetto and give his daughter the best start in life. We even get a great opening, with Cohen cutting nicely between the unattainable realms of the wealthy and the everyday drudge of the working classes. Yet the moment we see Will Ferrell's unevenly-shaped posterior grinding up against a window in the throes of upper-class fornication, the audience will be quick to realize that Trading Places this will not be. After this we get a near-constant stream of jokes that mostly center around the ideas that all white people think black people have been locked up (a detail not helped by nearly every other black character other than Hart walking around gang colors) and that the most important lesson for incarceration survival is knowing how to fellate your fellow prisoner. Considering how well Cohen skewered Hollywood attitudes on race relations in Tropic Thunder, this really is a disappointing letdown. He also tacks on a lazy scapegoat subplot that is poorly thought out and plays like an afterthought in the editing process.

(See how I tacked on the mention of it to the end of that paragraph? Kinda feels like that!)

PictureWorking out in the Yard
Yet every so often we get a sign of the film that this all could have been. There is some real chemistry between Ferrell and Hart, whose differing approaches to comedy gel much better than expected. It works in enough occasions to hope that they get to work again on something more substantial very soon. The conversion of King's house into a makeshift prison has some nice touches, with the tennis court turned into the Yard and King's "cell" interred in the large reception hall. And while a skit about the differing gangs in the Yard becomes more labored as it progresses, the simulation of a prison riot was easily the most laugh-out-loud sequence in the movie. But best of all is one of the smaller moments in the film, where Darnell befriends T.J. Jagodowski's lonely barfly Chris at a local gay haunt. Here is a character that feels believable and real in a sea of homophobic clichés around him. Darnell may not like the unwanted attention at first, but a funny video call with Chris captures a natural bonhomie and a real sense of feeling. The fact that Cohen chooses to cut this great sequence with a crass attempt by Ferrell to learn how to suck cock in a restroom cubicle (Veep's Matt Walsh is wasted in a nothing role as Ferrell's unlucky... I want to say Victim?) tells you just how misjudged large swathes of this movie is. And this is the real crime here - with components as good as the ones we have here, Get Hard really should have been more than a lame double entendre.

Limp and flaccid when it should be sharp and cutting, Get Hard is a somewhat disappointing union between Will Ferrell & Kevin Hart. There's some moments of inspired work scattered here and there, but Etan Cohen's directorial début is more jailhouse bitch than king of the yard. Here's hoping Ferrell and Hart get to work on something better soon.