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'John Wick: Chapter 3' Review: Keanu Continues Kicking Butt

Reeves, 54, excels in action series that ages as well as he does

Rating: R

Run time: 2 hours 23 minutes

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Anjelica Huston, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Chad Stahelski

Keanu Reeves, 54, fell off Hollywood's A-list soon after his Matrix trilogy earned $3 billion. For over a decade, studios mostly spurned him, bitter that he refused to make lousy blockbusters like the sequel to his wonderful blockbuster Speed. He chose to play Hamlet onstage in Winnipeg instead of making Speed 2 (which has received an abysmal 4 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Improbably, his huge comeback at age 50 was John Wick, a violent, low-budget epic about a hit man mourning the murder of his wife (and worse, the puppy she gave him). It was directed by Reeves’ Matrix stuntman Chad Stahelski.

Even more unlikely, the second Wick flick was better than the first. And this third one has scored all-time high ratings for the franchise on Rotten Tomatoes: a stellar 95 percent. Reeves looks remarkably like he did decades ago — flopping forelock, sketchy beard, imperially slim — and he's riding high on John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum (which means “prepare for war” in Latin). This time, Wick's criminal enemies have put a $14 million price on his head, so he spends the film on the run from greedy assassins who pop out from every corner. His reputation precedes him, so they say how honored they are to get a chance to kill him, though the honor is all his.

Easier said than done. Ambush Wick in a library's quiet rare-books room, and he'll crush your windpipe with a priceless old tome, then carefully replace it on the shelf. He's a nice guy who wouldn't murder anyone — if only people would stop trying to murder him. Motorcyclists chase him while he's astride a horse, and the horseman wins, because his horse is a martial-arts expert, too. Ninjas on motorcycles attack him, and his motorcycle prevails. With blades, fists, feet and whatever retro weapon he can grab — including smashing glass cases at a gun museum and searching for bullets that fit the gun — Wick dispatches his assailants in ways that never get visually boring. Viewers averse to high body counts in action pictures will just hate this movie, but fans of not-very-upsetting mayhem will be thrilled by the verve and ingenuity of the highly improbable combat. Sword fights during motorcycle races — don't try this at home, folks.

It's all choreographed as prettily as the dance scenes in Ralph Fiennes’ Rudolf Nureyev biopic The White Crow. In fact, Parabellum boasts fine ballet scenes interrupted by hit men as graceful as the ballerinas. Anjelica Huston, 67, has a blast as the haughty ballet director who's also mixed up with the shadowy authorities determined to alter Wick's fate. As Wick's ill-tempered fellow killer, age-proof beauty Halle Berry, 52, is more athletic than Huston but not as good dramatically as laconic Reeves — she's peevish and trying too hard to look tough. Reeves’ essence is his effortlessness. Also, Berry keeps getting upstaged by the delightfully cinematic attack dogs she sics on people.

Some movies for grownups are arty and quiet, for the cognoscenti. This one is big, loud, fast, fun and silly — though it has more narrative integrity than most blockbuster movies today. It proves the uncanny staying power of its hero, a star for all decades. If anybody subverts aging, it's Keanu Reeves.