John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum

*** As with the previous two films in the John Wick series, the plot to the third installment—in which Mr. Wick (Keanu Reeves) is pursued by seemingly all the world's assassins after a $14 million bounty is put on his head—is less important than the thrillingly choreographed fight scenes. Once again directed by former stunt man Chad Stahelski, Parabellum traffics in the kind of highly styled violence—a hit man is killed with a book in a scene that's both intense and humorous—and cleverness that has put the franchise at the fore of the current action movie scene. The previous films' success helped secure a bigger production budget this time around. Names like Halle Berry and Anjelica Huston have been added to the bloody lineup, and shooting took place in exotic locales like Casablanca and the Sahara—but that's all window dressing. People buy tickets to John Wick to see Keanu "Whoa" Reeves avenge his dead wife and pup by vanquishing his myriad enemies in creative ways. Parabellum delivers just that and does so with much gory aplomb. R. DONOVAN FARLEY. Bagdad, Cedar Hills, Cinemagic, Clackamas, Cornelius, Eastport, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Oak Grove, Bridgeport, Cascade, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Lloyd, Sherwood, Tigard, Roseway, Scappoose Cinema 7, Studio One.

A Dog's Journey

** For all its soppy failings, there was an undeniable sweetness about A Dog's Purpose. Lasse Hallström's 2017 film followed golden retriever Bailey's reincarnation across breed and place— relatively so; this is an American dog—until, ensconced as a young Saint Bernard mix, he runs across original owner Ethan Montgomery (Dennis Quaid) and helps the aging farmer reconnect with his high school sweetheart and evident soulmate. Replacing Hallström with Modern Family vet Gail Mancuso to predictably deadening results, A Dog's Journey finds Ethan happily married to said sweetheart, mourning her recently deceased son and caring for granddaughter Clarity June (Kathryn Prescott) until CJ's mother whisks her away en route to dreams of launching a solo musical career. Soon afterward, Ethan approaches a tumorous Bailey and implores the pooch to protect CJ following euthanasia, and the very, very good dog burns through a few more lives defending the girl from maternal tirades and creepy boyfriends. Such a clearly delineated goal heightens narrative thrust, to be sure, but the first film leavened its tragedies with the effervescent joy of becoming. Tethering Bailey's soul to the overarching orders of his master leads somewhere far darker. Against cutesily self-aware voice-over poop jokes, like an infinitely sadder Deadpool, our hero effectively kills himself over and over again to fulfill some arbitrarily assigned mission. If it sets forth a Sisyphean path of unending rebirth fueled by inchoate obligation, maybe don't teach an old dog new tricks? PG. JAY HORTON. Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Cornelius, Eastport, Oak Grove, Bridgeport, Cascade, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Lloyd, Sherwood, Tigard, Scappoose Cinema 7.

The Hustle

* Though unlikely to ring alarms among the Men's Rights Activists railing against female-led reboots, The Hustle plays a long con. The efforts of Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway), manipulator extraordinaire of swindled suitors along the French Riviera, to tutor and then sabotage brash interloper Penny Rust (Rebel Wilson), are justified as a means to redress longstanding gender inequities. But the very same line of reasoning fueled scams against women in the hustler movies Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) and Bedtime Story (1964). Though lazily cornball and something less than woke, this modernized variant does change so little from past iterations—the main mark's now an app developer, and I don't recall David Niven calling Marlon Brando "a big-titted Russell Crowe" in Bedtime Story. Switching the sexes of such undeveloped characters works surprisingly smoothly, even if each still feels woefully miscast. The original films' banter revolved around the embittered envy any suave maestro of Old World elegance would feel toward an equally resentful young American Lothario's raw virility. Ascribing both qualities to Hathaway fatally disrupts power dynamics, forces upon her an accent never remotely credible and allows Wilson to wallow in the slapstick grotesquerie she's made an increasingly-uncomfortable trademark. Change up the roles, allow Wilson to focus that "Fat Amy" cunning and Hathaway to further her party-girl-monster shtick from Colossal, and Veep-trained director Chris Addison may have had something to work with. After all, while the battle of the sexes may have reached a dreary impasse, the war between sophistication and curb appeal rages onward, and vive la différence. PG-13. JAY HORTON. Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Cornelius, Eastport, Oak Grove, Bridgeport, Cascade, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Evergreen, Fox Tower, Lloyd, Sherwood, Tigard, Scappoose Cinema 7, Studio One.