Zenlike aloofness. Deadpan line-delivery. A certain dumbstruck cool verging on total blankness. These are some of Keanu Reeves' actorly calling cards -- a skill set that allows him to portray everything from a time-traveling stoner (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) to a Messiah-like demigod (in the Matrix trilogy). You wouldn't necessarily associate such dude-itude with gun-toting, perp-busting cop roles.
But Reeves' turn in this month's Street Kings marks his fifth outing as a man with a badge and a mission. Although, at 43, he might never outgrow nagging expectations that he's going to blurt out "No way!" -- even while packing a Glock and clad in Kevlar -- Reeves has excelled at more than his fair share of police parts.
POINT BREAK (1991) The cop: Special Agent John "Johnny" Utah, a loose-limbed FBI agent with a laconic San Fernando Valley drawl who goes undercover, posing as a surfer/action-sports enthusiast to infiltrate a gang of bank robbers known as the Ex-Presidents. Prone to wearing tight T-shirts (highlighting his then-27-year-old buff physique), he's the kind of guy who doesn't so much act as react to situations -- yet would jump out of an airplane sans parachute to get his man.
Key dialogue: "Look, Angelo, you think I joined the FBI to learn how to surf?"
The cop: Officer Jack Traven, a hard-charging young cop, faces a daunting task: He must diffuse a bomb, which a psychopath has placed on a city bus, that's set to go off should the bus' speed drop below 50 mph. In keeping with Reeves' minimum-output, maximum-intake approach to acting, the character is more apt to jump a bus across an unfinished freeway overpass than speak more than two sentences of dialogue in a given scene. And, of course, he gets the girl (played by Sandra Bullock).
Key dialogue: "I have to warn you: Relationships based on intense situations never work."
The cop: Fair enough, John Constantine isn't exactly a cop. He's a supernatural detective, an exorcism-performing antihero with a crucifix-shaped Gatling gun responsible for enforcing an uneasy peace between angels and hell-spawn on Earth. He's been to hell, of course, chain smokes and, as played by Reeves, delivers jokes so deadpan they are DOA.
Key dialogue: The movie's "whoa bro" moment arrives when Constantine gives Lucifer the middle finger.
A SCANNER DARKLY (2006)
The cop: Agent Fred/Bob Arctor is a narc who's working toward a huge drug bust and an overdose; he's addicted to something called Substance D, even while trying to get it off the street. Rendered in surrealistic "rotoscopic" animation (a la director Richard Linklater's earlier film "Waking Life"), the character's zonked-out existentialism is a perfect fit with Reeves' innate spaciness.
Key dialogue: "How'd I get here?"
STREET KINGS (2008)
The cop: Veteran Los Angeles Detective Tom Ludlow is a man of few words -- a guy with bulging biceps, a drinking problem and a nasty habit of killing perps rather than bringing them to any more conventional form of justice. Morally rudderless since his wife's death, he goes to guns after witnessing his ex-partner -- a suspected Internal Affairs snitch -- being murdered. In the process of uncovering the truth, Ludlow must face up to his demons in an attempt to redeem himself.
Key dialogue: "We're the police. We can do whatever the hell we want."
Chris Lee writes for the Los Angeles Times.