Why does Keanu Reeves appear to be "on" in some movies, and simply sleepwalking through others? Every time he seems close to definitively settling the question of "Can he really act?" he delivers a performance that makes you change your mind again.
Reeves does excel at playing the perpetually dim bulb. Movies like "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989), "Parenthood" (1989) and "I Love You to Death" (1990) all fit. Give him a role that allows him to carry on with eyelids at half-mast and recite dialogue like "Bodacious!" and "Most excellent!" and Reeves can do no wrong.
He has fared less well in period pieces like "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988) and "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992), where the mere sight of him in period costume is enough to immediately shatter any mood of time and place.
In action movies, Reeves fares well when the movie has a strong enough concept, like the surfing bank robbers in "Point Break" (1991) or the runaway bus in "Speed" (1994). Put him in an action flick that requires stronger characterization (like the cyberpunk thriller "Johnny Mnemonic" (1995) or last week's "Chain Reaction") and Reeves seems lost.
In serious drama -- which could settle the debate -- Reeves is thoroughly unpredictable. He delivered his best work in "My Own Private Idaho" (1991), playing a street hustler, and he acquitted himself admirably as the romantic lead in "A Walk in the Clouds" (1995). But he felt embarrassingly out of place in Bernardo Bertolucci's hallucinatory "Little Buddha" (1993) (what was Bertolucci thinking?) and wrestled admirably but unsuccessfully with Shakespearean verse in "Much Ado About Nothing" (1993).
Is Reeves an actor? Most definitely. Is he good? Stay tuned.
Pub Date: 8/04/96