How do we love Keanu Reeves? Let us count the ways, as he himself might say in yet another disastrous foray into Shakespearean acting.
We love his sharp jaw and fathomless dark eyes, and the way he throws himself into yet another period film that he can't possibly pull off.
We love his utter lack of humor and his Zen-like capacity to provide unintentional laughs.
We love his studied seriousness, his hyper-politeness, his wooden diction, his stolid monologues.
We love the exotic Hawaiian-Chinese lineage that makes him so beautiful, and the way his surfer dudity mixes with an incongruous, affected Victorian stiffness, as if he's trying to summon something intangible he learned in drama school.
We love the way he seems to choose great movies and bad movies with equal abandon, and the way no one seems to know for sure whether he can really act.
This is why, for eight years now, disregarding the puzzled stares of our co-workers, we've gone together to see way more Keanu Reeves movies than a person should. We share a horrified fascination with his career: What will he do next????
(Our suggestion: a gender-reversed remake of The Piano, with Keanu in the Holly Hunter role. This, in tribute to a brainstorm Heather's boss once had: "He needs to play a mute!")
But Keanu, in all his haphazard wisdom, redeemed himself in 1999 with The Matrix. Here was a role that, for once, married his robotic splendor to a bona fide killer flick.
So here, at the dawn of The Matrix Reloaded, we thought it would be a good time to try to unwrap the riddle of his career, which is itself veiled in the enigma that is ... Keanu Reeves.
Good movie, poorly cast
• Much Ado About Nothing. Fortunately, Keanu's Don John character has to glare much more than he speaks. But when he speaks, it just reminds you all the more that Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington are also in the movie. Glaring is good.
• Dangerous Liaisons. This time, he had to live up to Glenn Close and John Malkovich. Too bad there wasn't more glaring. (Really. Period films? Were all those casting directors on crack?)
Bad movie, poorly cast
Bram Stoker's Dracula, Little Buddha, The-Replacements, A Walk in the Clouds, Sweet November. It would take too long to list all the facets of cinematic badness herein, both from Keanu and the films themselves (and note how many are period films!). However, the first four pale in comparison to Sweet November. It was so painful to watch that 15 minutes into the film, we were hoping Charlize Theron might die ahead of schedule. But not before giving whatever she had to Keanu.
So-so movie, so-so casting
The Watcher. Keanu was OK as a serial killer, until he opened his mouth. Or, as Heather said upon viewing this flick, "You know what Keanu needs to do? Less talkin', more stalkin'."
Fun flick, well-cast, lovable doofus/stoner role
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, I Love You to Death, Parenthood. For a time, it seemed that he would be caught in the only role in which he seemed natural. Luckily or unluckily, he moved on.
Good movie, well-cast, angsty teen
My Own Private Idaho, River's Edge. Cute, sincere and supported by strong actors like River Phoenix and Crispin Glover.
Good movie, surprisingly well-cast
The Gift. Thanks partly to director Sam Raimi, Keanu pulls off the acting performance of his career as an abusive husband. Fluid, angry and menacing. Who knew? (We did. Or at least, we had faith.)
Fun action movie, well-cast
• Point Break. Five words: One hundred percent pure adrenaline. OK, five more: Keanu in a wet suit.
• Speed. Still in shape from surfing, Keanu saves the day in a tight, white T-shirt, all the while politely calling Sandra Bullock "Ma'am." Plus, it foreshadows his next phase ...
Perfect fit, silent and studly
• Johnny Mnemonic. Playing a man whose brain was hard-wired, you got a sense of how his automatonic qualities could be put to good use. But then ... career peak:
• The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded. His long, lean figure and monosyllabic delivery have found a home in a virtual dimension. Which is where we always thought his career was in the first place.