Keanu Reeves stars in a scene from the movie "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum." The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)
Keanu Reeves stars in a scene from the movie "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum." The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Lionsgate)
NEW YORK (CNS) — "Life is suffering," declares a character in "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum" (Lionsgate). While that may or may not hold true as a general principle, for the two hours-plus that this slick but nasty action picture lasts it certainly seems accurate enough.

Cut off from the protection of the worldwide criminal enterprise he previously served and with a sizable bounty on his head, the assassin of the title (Keanu Reeves) battles wave after wave of attacking opponents. The most prominent and persistent of his adversaries is martial-arts master Zero (Mark Dacascos), who is not above acknowledging his admiration for Wick even as he tries to kill him.

The term of art for Wick's punishment of exclusion, as eventually enforced by an otherwise unnamed official called an adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), is "excommunicado," which sounds to the uninitiated ear like a combination of excommunicated and occupado. But we digress.

Among the few willing to help Wick are The Director (Anjelica Huston), a fellow Belarus-born agent of the syndicate, whose day job appears to be running a sadistic school for would-be ballerinas and aspiring wrestlers.

In appealing to her on the basis of their shared ethnicity, Wick also holds out to her an East European-style rosary — the symbol, apparently, of her past indebtedness to him. The cross of this rosary is later severed from it and used to brand Wick as a token that he has been repaid.

As Wick globetrots seeking a way out of his predicament, he's also aided by Sofia (Halle Berry), a Morocco-based assassin, and by Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of a New York hotel that serves as a sanctuary for mobsters.

While a complexly structured alternate reality and dark humor serve as window dressing for returning director Chad Stahelski's expansion of a franchise that began in 2014, the real order of business is reveling in the resourceful ways the protagonist finds to dispose of his enemies. The film's appeal to its audience's worst instincts is shameless.

Those not satisfied, for instance, to see Wick stab his pursuers through the eye or the top of the skull may be diverted by the sight of a pair of vicious dogs owned by Sofia mauling and even castrating various extras. That's not to mention the early scene, set in the main branch of the New York Public Library, that finds Wick breaking an enemy's neck over the binding of a book. Ah, learning.

The film contains pervasive violence, much of it gory, numerous gruesome images and a few crude and crass expressions. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.