When considering the simple pleasures of the “John Wick” movies, character development and dense back story would rate somewhere below the bottom of the list. The world of streaming, however, favors the long winded, a factor much in evidence in “The Continental: From the World of John Wick,” a handsomely produced but unnecessary prequel Peacock miniseries with a Keanu Reeves-shaped donut hole.
Set in the 1970s, the three-part project (the time commitment that suggests is a bit misleading, since each chapter running well over an hour) derives its biggest kick from the very savvily selected period song score, nicely setting the mood of a gritty, shadowy New York during the disco years. Frankly, those songs, like Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” do as much as the Wick-style fight sequences to make “The Continental” worth a visit, if not a full stay.
The highest hurdle likely involves the plot, which focuses on the history of the hotel haven for assassins, the mysterious organization known as the High Table and hotel proprietor Winston Scott (Ian McShane in the movies), played here by Colin Woodell.
This younger version of Winston is essentially minding his own business, trying to make it as an entrepreneur, when his battle-hardened brother Frankie (Ben Robson) steals something from the High Table, prompting an extended, densely choreographed fight of the punch/shoot-twice variety.
Desperate to find Frankie, the High Table and the Continental’s owner Cormac, played by Mel Gibson, abducts him. Gibson gives the show its one bit of identifiable star power, with the tradeoff being his strangely accented, over-the-top performance is distractingly bad.
Facing such formidable adversaries, Winston needs allies. He gradually finds them, but all the story-driven shenanigans involved in assembling them feel a little too much like killing time before getting to the next action sequence, which, let’s face it, is the main attraction.
Indeed, there’s not much sense the wider Wick “world” holds that much fascination, and while the show does produce some intriguing characters – perhaps the best being Yen (Nhung Kate), whose first impulse in almost every dangerous situation is to punch her way out of it – “John Wick’s” supporting players, including the recognizable names such as Charon (the late Lance Reddick in the four movies, and Ayomide Adegun here) don’t amass enough screen time to stoke much demand for an origin story.
A fight with a contortionist does add a novel twist to things (literally), and the decision to deploy the hotel’s “weirdos” to pursue Winston, along with an homage to “The Matrix,” offers a sense of the show’s playful, almost eccentric edge. Premium-TV standards also apply to the language, violence and sex, the last a pastime for which the movies understandably haven’t had much time.
Yet despite no shortage of action, “The Continental” finally feels short on firepower. Granted, for a streaming service like Peacock (which will spread the show over three successive weeks), just the chance to draft off the “John Wick” name is surely a no-brainer, even if this period piece is a relatively big-ticket item.
After checking out the accommodations, though, whatever curiosity and novelty that might “The Continental” have held soon fades, making the prospect of booking future reservations one that Peacock, for the time being, should likely put on hold.
“The Continental: From the World of John Wick” premieres September 22 on Peacock.