Before we go any farther, I wish to include the following disclaimer/qualifier: Keanu Reeves is gorgeous, passes my Cracker Test and is (according to my friends in Los Angeles who have interviewed him or waited on him as a server in a restaurant) a complete and utterly charming kind soul. I shall try to restrain myself from any overt gushing, but those seeking an objective, dispassionate decontruction of his filmography may wish to click through to the Christian Science Monitor at this point.
Still with me? Splendid. Shall we press on? For those who find Reeves a wooden performer – sure, I can see certain performances where that can be said. However, he also possesses a relative alchemy and willingness to try different things through the role he chooses. In terms of the films I’ve chosen as they pertain to pop culture, I can say with certainty that these roles have become part of the collective pop consciousness, and that specifc lines from his work are “instant linguistic short cuts” for the initiated.
As an example, my youngest daughter, who wasn’t event a zygote in 1989 said, “There’s trouble brewing at the Circle K,” the other day (in reference to a kerfluffle we witnessed while driving home from school).
This most excellent film may have established the parameters and expectations for Reeves from the outset. Perhaps, had he chosen Hamlet as his initial box office performance of note, his career may have had a different trajectory. As it is, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was the vehicle that introduced us to the uber-laid back Ted. Propelled hither and yon via a time-traveling phone booth and guided by the inestimable George Carlin, Bill and Ted encounter (and affect) some of history’s most pivotal characters in their efforts to write a book report. Twinkies, Socrates and quite possibly the world’s most repeated password are all part of the fun (“Sixty-nine, dude!”). Gush-O-Meter: a young Keanu is hopelessly beautiful.
Speed gave Reeves an opportunity to combine a couple archetypes in one role: romantic lead and action hero. This outing didn’t add to pop culture, necessarily, but it was a fun, fun movie and it also features Dennis Hopper (an icon in his own right), so I include it here. Reeves turns in a solid, likeable performance and plays opposite Sandra Bullock in a charming, credible fashion. It spawned a boat-themed sequel, but without the presence of Reeves, sank at the box office. Gush-O-Meter: This is a movie that I’ll sit through if I’m clicking through cable and I stumble across it. I’m a fan of white tee shirts – what can I say?
…and then came, in my opinion, the role for which Reeves will always be known: Mr. Anderson. The Matrix goes beyond pop culture in many ways, due to the spiritual and existential underpinnings that anchor the film. Adopted by many religions as a derivation on their theme(s), Neo as Christ/Buddhism etc., the Matrix series is a theologian’s dream. Add the camera work, anime-esque costuming and overall slick cool-factor, and you have a genre-establishing film with a hard-core following. The film(s) are replete with pop culture references, and I use a few of them quite often. A commercial/business example? Through the course of my my advertising/social media life, I’ve encountered a media firm called The Red Pill.
Personal favorite quotes include, “There is no spoon,” “Stop trying to hit me and HIT ME!” and “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” By the way, we *are* a virus. Oh well. That’s what the Architect and the reset button are for, right? Gush-O-Meter: I love Johnny Cash, but Reeves’ Man In Black gives the singer a run for his money.
As a visual artist/designer, I LOVE the look of A Scanner Darkly. The rotoscoping is farkin’ awesome, and as a result, this movie is aesthetically stunning. When you add the speculative fiction chops of Phillip K. Dick, you have something truly mind-bending. A paragraph doesn’t do this film justice. Truly. The choice to use rotoscoping may have been an editorial one designed as a statement regarding the drug use in the film and illusionary nature of the universes/worlds Reeves’ Arctor inhabits and vacillates between. This is a film I could watch multiple times and see something different with each viewing. This should be a Survey of Film Course staple. Gush-O-Meter: as Reeves’ likeness is an animated one, this is a wash, so to speak.
Remakes are a tough sell under the best of circumstances, but doubly so when trifling with geekdom lore as represented by sci fi darling The Day the Earth Stood Still. Yes, it’s true that you can’t go home again, and for the haters who decry Reeves’ wooden delivery, this film was a meat pitch. That said, they are, in many ways, entirely different films. Yes, Reeves’ Klaatu isn’t averse to eradicating The Virus to save the planet, but instead of The Red Scare, the theme in this version is the environment (which I confess to being a credible factor). But I digress. Maybe this will be like the film A Wonderful Life, which tanked at the box office upon its initial release only to find new life years later. Regardless, this may be a film of which too much was expected. Gush-O-Meter: Seriously. The man is gorgeous. Sigh.
Here’s where you come in. What did I miss? Constantine? The Devil’s Advocate? Parenthood? My Private Idaho? Let’s dish!
BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE – TED LOGAN (1989)
SPEED – JACK TRAVEN (1994)
THE MATRIX – THOMAS A. ANDERSON/NEO (1999)
THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS & RELOADED – NEO (2003)
A SCANNER DARKLY – BOB ARCTOR (2006)
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL – KLAATU (2008)