The yin and yang of Keanu Reeves
- Scott R. Garceau (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2014 - 12:00am

I like to think that most people are comprised of a balance of opposites. They have their good points, they have their bad points. There’s a yin and yang nature to people, and Keanu Reeves is no exception.

I don’t want to damn the actor for appearing in some bad movies, because he’s also appeared in a number of good ones. His acting is an elusive thing: sometimes it meshes so well with his character (The Matrix) that you suddenly find yourself going, “Whoa… Keanu can act…” But of course this is an illusion, just as The Matrix is an illusion.

I’m concerning myself instead with movies that Keanu Reeves has personally torpedoed with his bad acting. These are the movies that were in A-list director hands, had A-list casts surrounding the actor, and yet were dragged down into disaster by the dull, flat delivery and bovine stare of Mr. Reeves.

And in true yin-yang fashion, I will balance this out with movies that Keanu was kind of really good in — just to show I believe in the balance of opposites that is essential to human existence, and Keanu Reeves’ extended career.

The good

The nice thing about Keanu Reeves is he doesn’t seem to care much about the acting game. He’s just there, like the moon and stars, and his popularity continues (as long as my sister-in-law keeps dragging us to his movies, his popularity will remain a fixture here). He seems to have a personal philosophy of picking projects that matter most to him, not to further his image. Sometimes the movies suck. Sometimes they’re good. I don’t think Reeves thinks about these matters too much. That’s cool. He’s like a Zen master in a place — Hollywood — that’s not very Zen.

River’s Edge. One of his first attention-getting roles was in Tim Hunter’s disturbing 1986 teen drama. He played the boyfriend of Ione Skye and one of the few characters that seemed to possess a recognizable human conscience. A good start for Keanu.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures. This one, from 1989, was closest to what people imagined Keanu Reeves to be like in real life. Its unparalleled cluelessness also spawned everything from Wayne’s World to Beavis and Butthead.

My Own Private Idaho. People are divided on this one. Half the time, Keanu puts in a solid performance in Gus Van Sant’s 1991 indie drama, but he’s just outclassed by River Phoenix’s haunting turn as a male hustler. Then, when the movie shifts to faux-Shakespearean dialogue (during the Bob Pigeon scenes), the wheels come off the cart for Keanu. Keanu and Shakespeare, as we shall see a few years later, do not mix.

Point Break. People are also divided on Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 surf heist cult classic with Patrick Swayze. But if anything, Keanu’s blank face and laidback acting approach enhance the silliness of this cotton candy action film.

Speed. You can divide Reeves’ career between pre- and post-Speed, the huge 1994 blockbuster that validated his flat delivery and blank stare. Without Speed, there would have been no…

The Matrix. Keanu plays around his own image in this one (“I know Kung Fu!”) and the 1999 film signaled the actor’s growing interest in martial arts, a passion that continues with the recent snoozer, 47 Ronin.

Something’s Gotta Give. This 2003 romcom actually made us believe Keanu as a doctor. Showing maturity and easy charm, Reeves was the equal of his co-stars, Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Whoa!

The bad

Okay, every yin deserves its yang, so here are movies that Keanu personally derailed.

Dangerous Liasons (1988) Stephen Frears might have thought casting the hot actor of the moment was a solid gold idea. Keanu’s accent, blank stare and posturing draws you out of a consummate sexual drama in which Glenn Close and John Malkovich act serpentine circles around the newbie.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Okay, there are a lot of off-the-wall things in Francis Coppola’s 1992 camp classic: Gary Oldman’s hair, Winona Ryder’s accent, Tom Waits chewing up the scenery (when he’s not chewing on rats). But Keanu’s turn as Jonathan Harker is a major bum note in what could have been plausible B-movie fun. From his goofy accent to his white hair, Keanu relies on his worst instincts and turns in a high school level performance. “Boxes of eeeaaarth,” anybody?

Much Ado About Nothing. 1992 was really a banner year for Keanu badness, with three A-list directors lured in by Keanu’s mannered acting. Kenneth Branagh inexplicably has the actor stumble through Shakespeare, which he delivers like the Big Bad Wolf striding through a “Three Little Pigs” rendition. Bad Keanu.

Little Buddha. The trifecta of badness is complete as Bernardo Bertolucci — apparently blinded in the same way Branagh and Coppola were — gives Reeves a key role as Siddharta. He’s not up to it, and the tin-pan accent and delivery pull you right out of what was supposed to be Betrolucci’s comeback movie.

A Walk in the Clouds. This gauzy 1995 romance solidified a lazy leading man acting style that continued to haunt Keanu in hits like The Lake House. It’s not bad acting, there’s just no “there” there.

The Devil’s Advocate. Taylor Hackford’s thriller was largely derailed by Al Pacino’s not-too-subtle turn as Lucifer, but Keanu’s Southern twang deserves special mention in turning an unbelievable premise into a truly ludicrous film.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008). A bad remake all around, but Keanu is simply miscast in a role that requires the patrician manner of someone like Michael Rennie, who played Klaatu in the original 1957 movie. Keanu just seems like he has a pole up his ass.

* * *

And in true yin-yang fashion, we have a tie! Keanu Reeves has emerged triumphant in roughly as many movies as he’s personally sullied. So the tie goes to… Keanu. Most excellent!


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