CALLERI: Reeves returns as John Wick in fast-paced thriller

Photo by Mark Rogers – LionsgateKeanu Reeves and Halle Berry find themselves in the Sahara Desert outside Casablanca, Morocco in “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum.”

If Keanu Reeves were paid by the spoken word in “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum,” he wouldn’t have made much money.

The four screenwriters probably had an easy time of it, as well. The 130-minute action thriller consists of a series of violent interactions, most of them punctuated by grunts and groans, but not very many lines of dialogue.

It’s also nice to be aware of a filmmaking team that seems to get along. This is the third John Wick movie. Reeves has played the title character, a lethal hitman, in all of them.

Former stuntman Chad Stahelski has directed the new edition, as well as “John Wick” and “John Wick: Chapter 2.” Although reportedly, he had some uncredited directing help from David Leitch regarding the initial production.

The series was created by Derek Kolstad, and he alone wrote what passes for a screenplay for the first two features. This time-around he had some help, lots of it.

Although dialogue isn’t key, three men – Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abrams – share writing credit with Kolstad on the new entry. Women need not apply. Filmmaking being what it is, you can also assume that Reeves and director Stahelski also helped craft the script.

Here are some bits of trivia for movie buffs who enjoy this sort of information. One: John Wick is the name of Kolstad’s maternal grandfather. And two: “parabellum” is Latin for prepare for war. The full phrase is: Si vis pacem, para bellum; “if you want peace, prepare for war.” Parabellum is also a type of World War I machine gun, a style of Luger pistol, and a cartridge (bullet) for a handgun.

Unlike “Avengers: Endgame,” for which knowledge of what came before is vital, having seen the previous John Wick films is not essential.

The movie exists in a neo-noir Manhattan, where rain-slicked streets and neon lights abound. There’s a side jaunt to fabled, sun-lit Casablanca, Morocco, but we’re mostly surrounded by looming city buildings and shadows dominating nights of endless violence. Dan Laustsen’s gleaming cinematography is a highlight of the adventure.

Danger lurks everywhere for Wick. It’s literally his worst day. He’s on the run, targeted by assassins, having been declared an enemy by the high priests of the High Table, the organization for which he carries out killings. His crime? He’s committed an unsanctioned assassination — $14-million goes to whomever can murder Wick.

The story is a long cat-and-mouse chase, and although that may seem tiresome to certain segments of the moviegoing population, the film clicks on all cylinders and seldom stops to breathe. Wick has friends, but the number of new enemies is greater. One fellow, who’s out to snare the bounty, actually gushes about his admiration of Wick’s stylistic flourishes and ability to carry out dark deeds as the two prepare to fight.

Anjelica Huston plays The Director, a woman with a negative past, a commanding presence, and the power to help Wick. A secret medallion and a crucifix necklace are part of the trade-off. Halle Berry is a Saharan touchstone for Wick. She’s a friend with an affinity for big dogs. Also in the cast are Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Mark Dacascos.

The tension-filled movie, which is absolutely not for children, is filled with excessively violent set-pieces. A fight in a library is settled with a book that’s used in a manner most would never consider a positive way to read.

Through it all, Reeves growls like a taciturn bear. There is no classic expressive acting here, unless you consider reacting in as guttural a way as possible the stuff of legend. The tinge of Ted and his excellent adventure remain.

“John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” succeeds because it’s consistent. Long-time readers know that one of my all-time favorite action films is “The Transporter,” with Jason Statham, from 2002. What I value about both movies is the willingness to stay true to the core philosophy and psychological dynamics of the central character.

I also respect Stahelski’s ability to maintain a rhythm revolving around one person’s hyperactive dilemma. Alfred Hitchcock would be proud. The film-length pursuit also worked very well in writer-director Tom Tykwer’s “Run Lola Run” from 1998.

John Wick trying to escape mayhem creates an energetic motion picture experience.

THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM: Here’s a disturbing fact. Many American teenagers don’t know where their food comes from. Are crop rotation and other agricultural mainstays no longer being taught in elementary school?

Molly Chester, a private chef, and her husband John Chester, a documentary filmmaker, gave up their Santa Monica, California apartment and bought a small and dusty failed farm about an hour north of Los Angeles. They wanted to grow crops using sustainable and environmentally safe methods. They knew nothing about farming or raising animals.

The Chesters have made “The Biggest Little Farm,” a gorgeously photographed and utterly engaging chronicle of their journey. It’s as delicious as the vegetables they grow. There are agricultural miracles to see and farmyard pets to enjoy, especially Emma the pig and Greasy the rooster. There are also tough hardships and an occasional sense of despair. Keen problem-solving is a must.

Through it all, Molly and John persevere. Their winsome documentary is a fascinating reality check for folks who wonder how food arrives into their kitchen. Bring your children to see it.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day section in the Niagara Gazette and Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.