By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Actor Keanu Reeves travels to a murky underworld in the action thriller, "John Wick," playing a grieving husband and retired assassin, who reverts to being a killing machine to avenge the wrongs done to him by Russian mobsters.
The film, jam-packed with car chases, gun fights, mayhem and murder, is the directorial debut of Reeves' former stuntman Chad Stahelski and producer David Leitch.
As John Wick, Reeves single-handedly guns down enough mobsters to fill a small cemetery.
The film, which opens in U.S. theaters on Friday, is expected to earn an estimated $17 million during its opening weekend.
But positive reviews for the Lionsgate R-rated thriller with the feel of a graphic novel and plaudits for Reeves' performance, could boost its numbers against this week's other opener, the horror film "Ouija," predicted to rake in $28 million, according to pro.boxoffice.com.
"When we meet John Wick, we don't know anything about him except that he is grieving for his ill wife, who passes," said the 50-year-old Reeves, best known for "The Matrix" trilogy.
"As the story unfolds we come to learn about the myth of this man as a killer."
Wick had retired from his life of crime five years earlier. But after the son of a Russian mobster and his cronies invade his home, steal the classic car he refused to sell, and kill the puppy given to him by his late wife, Wick becomes a hit man once again.
"The script has these different textures and different worlds," said Reeves. "There is the real world and what comes to be revealed is this underworld. This den of thieves that has its own rules, has its own procedures, honor, code."
After arming himself with a small arsenal, Wick checks into the Continental Hotel. It is a safe haven for assassins, where killing is forbidden and the desk clerk can arrange an unquestioning doctor to patch up wounds, and even a waste disposal company to get rid of bullet-riddled bodies.
"There is a humor to the situation," Reeves said. "John is drenched in blood and he is asking about room service to get his shirt cleaned."
Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") is the Russian crime lord and Wick's former boss. "Game of Thrones" actor Alfie Allen, plays his son, who unleashes the wrath of Wick, and Willem Dafoe ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") is an assassin who accepts a contract to kill Wick.
The trade magazine Variety said Reeves reminds us "what a compelling action star he can be," and the Hollywood Reporter called the film "a visceral revenge thriller."
"After a marked absence from the genre, Reeves resoundingly returns with an effortless, kinetic style that positions the film extremely well for any potential follow-ups," it said.
Lionsgate is making the Wick character available as a free downloadable character to integrate into the video game "Payday 2," according to Variety.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Bernadette Baum)