Adrianne Palicki

John Wick (2014, Chad Stahelski)

John Wick is all right. It feels like if it’d been made in the nineties, it’d have been revolutionary. Instead, it uses all the revolutionary and not revolutionary film techniques since the nineties to make the ultimate in mainstream heavy metal neo-pulp, with a twist of seventies exploitation for good measure. It succeeds because of lead Keanu Reeves, who’s got the best pleasant angry face and does enough of his stunts—and director Stahelski knows how to showcase Reeves during those stunts—to keep the viewer engaged with his unstoppable killing machine as he moves through the video game of a story.

The film opens with Reeves seemingly fatally wounded, nothing left to do but watch a video of him and Bridget Moynahan on a beach. Cue flashback montage showing how Reeves and Moynahan were happily together (married we find out, post-montage), then she dies (from a long-term fatal illness), then she (posthumously) gets Reeves an adorable little puppy to keep him company. To this point, we haven’t seen Reeves do any action hero stuff. In fact, it feels like the film’s doing a riff on tearjerkers, only tongue in cheek.

Only then Russian mob weasel Alfie Allen steals Reeves’s car and kills the puppy so Reeves is going to get payback. The film’s first act is a lot better written than anything else, even when it feels like video game cutscenes. And John Leguizamo’s first act cameo as the first guy from the old life Reeves meets up with. Turns out Allen is son of Reeves’s former employer, Michael Nyqvist, who owes his empire to Reeves. Great performance from Nyqvist. Not a great part, unfortunately, but a great performance nonetheless.

The rest of the film, outside the detailed world-building with hotels in a Flatiron Building stand-in where all the assassins stay and it’s off limits for contracts and everyone pays each other in single gold coins and Reeves gets power-up pills because it’s kind of just Super Mario Bros. John Wick’s never very complicated. It’s got a lot of guns (without being too gun porn-y, Stahelski’s about the action not the details), a lot of bit characters, and a lot of thorough action scenes courtesy Stahelski, producer and apparently uncredited co-director David Leitch, cinematographer Jonathan Sela, but really editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir. Ronaldsdóttir, almost as much as Reeves, makes John Wick. Even when the movie’s too loud for too long—the heavy metal action thing is no joke, they have a new Marilyn Manson song for John Wick. The film’s incredibly committed to itself. Even when it gets a little much. Stahelski’s good at the action scenes but they’re not technically innovative, they’re just excellent. The film’s a series of successfully established techniques, in action, in storytelling, smartly arranged, given life by a perfectly stone-faced Reeves and an exceptional editor.

The supporting cast has some excellent extended cameos—Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe. Lance Reddick… fine, but not excellent because it’s a crap cameo. Adrianne Palicki is better than you’d think in her extended cameo as unscrupulous fellow assassin but she’s not particularly good. She’s fine. The only one not fine is Dean Winters, as Nyqvist’s chief flunky; he serves no purpose in the film other than to take up space. Someone could make something amusing out of it, Winters does not. And Allen’s decent as the standard failed son of great mobster but he ends up with nothing to do. Except somehow be the only person Reeves can’t manage to hit.

Finally, if you are going to give John Wick a watch, I feel I need to warn you about the subtitles. The film stylizes its subtitles in some truly obnoxious ways. The worst thing isn’t even the visual appearance—I mean, of course it is but the absurd visual appearance just draws attention to the pointlessness of the dialogue. If he’s not writing monologues for the guest stars, writer Derek Kolstad’s got no idea what to say. When it’s Reeves, who doesn’t have to say anything (in fact, most of his dialogue is eventually just him repeating back statements from his adversaries), it’s fine. When it’s guest stars monologuing, it’s fine. When it’s the bad guys talking about Reeves coming to kill them and what they need to do?

It’s nonsense.

In the end, Wick’s nonsense and its successes basically even out. It’s definitely a successful action movie, but maybe not a significant one… because it’s just built on previous films’ significant successes. Wick riffs on a number of them, just with the technology and ability to execute them flawlessly, but without any character and without any risk.

So thank goodness for Reeves and Ronaldsdóttir. And Nyqvist.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Chad Stahelski; written by Derek Kolstad; director of photography, Jonathan Sela;edited by Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir; music by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard; production designer, Dan Leigh; costume designer, Luca Mosca; produced by Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria, and Mike Witherill; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Keanu Reeves (John Wick), Michael Nyqvist (Viggo Tarasov), Alfie Allen (Iosef Tarasov), Willem Dafoe (Marcus), Dean Winters (Avi), Adrianne Palicki (Ms. Perkins), Omer Barnea (Gregori), Toby Leonard Moore (Victor), Daniel Bernhardt (Kirill), Bridget Moynahan (Helen), John Leguizamo (Aurelio), Ian McShane (Winston), Bridget Regan (Addy), and Lance Reddick (Charon).


Wonder Woman (2011, Jeffrey Reiner)

When it gets to the conclusion, Wonder Woman finally distinguishes itself. Until this point, it has major problems—mostly acting, which I’ll get to in a second—and some great ideas. But there’s no balance between writer David E. Kelley’s thoughtful “reality” with a superhero and the day to day of Adrianne Palicki’s Wonder Woman. Until the finish, when director Reiner delivers a truly fantastic, exciting action sequence.

It’s completely unexpected and it works beautifully.

Except it’s starring Palicki and she’s bad. Sadly, she doesn’t even give the worst performance. Elizabeth Hurley gets that honor.

Rather good performancess from Tracie Thoms and Cary Elwes can’t save it. Kelley’s pointedly writing the role for a female actor with Christopher Reeve’s ability. Palicki can’t convincingly talk to a cat.

There’s no way for it to succeed with Palicki. And it’s too bad. Kelley’s got insight, just not the actor to deliver it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Jeffrey Reiner; teleplay by David E. Kelley, based on characters created by William M. Marston; director of photography, Colin Watkinson; music by Chris Bacon; produced by Tommy Burns; released by the National Broadcasting Company.

Starring Adrianne Palicki (Diana Prince / Wonder Woman), Cary Elwes (Henry Johns), Tracie Thoms (Etta Candy), Pedro Pascal (Ed Indelicato), Justin Bruening (Steve Trevor), Elizabeth Hurley (Veronica Cale) and Edward Herrmann (Senator Warren).


Legion (2010, Scott Stewart)

So is it just a coincidence Legion came out while James Cameron was busy with Avatar‘s theatrical release and the Terminator rights were getting sold? I mean, someone’s got to be keeping an eye out for filmic plagiarism, right?

Legion is the first two Terminator movies with an Old Testament God thrown in (I actually do love how the movie, as near as I can tell, ignores Jesus and all that jazz). Well, I guess there is one big difference between the two–in Terminator, Linda Hamilton fell for the guy who moons over here. In Legion, Adrianne Palicki–who’s laughably bad in the Sarah Connor role–seems more likely to get with protecting Terminator (sorry, angel) Paul Bettany than she does the devoted Lucas Black.

Black gets a whole paragraph, by the way, because he was so good in “American Gothic” and Sling Blade. He’s kind of likable, playing a rube, but I recognized him not because I knew he was in the movie, but because he’s using the same mannerisms he had as a kid.

Good performances from Tyrese Gibson (who’s turning this whole stereotypical gang banger grown up thing into a career), Charles S. Dutton (big shock), Willa Holland and Jon Tenney. Bad performances from Kevin Durand, Kate Walsh (how much make-up can one person wear) and Palicki. Dennis Quaid needs his agent to stop with the character actor roles and get himself a TV series.

Stewart’s not a bad director, just a terrible screenwriter.

Blah.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Scott Stewart; written by Peter Schink and Stewart; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Steven Kemper; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Jeff Higinbotham; produced by David Lancaster and Michel Litvak; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Paul Bettany (Michael), Lucas Black (Jeep Hansen), Tyrese Gibson (Kyle), Adrianne Palicki (Charlie), Charles S. Dutton (Percy Walker), Jon Tenney (Jay), Kevin Durand (Gabriel), Willa Holland (Audrey Anderson), Kate Walsh (Sandra Anderson) and Dennis Quaid (Bob Hansen).


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