Always Wondrous & Weird & Whatever
Inside the enquiring mind of hyper, part-Hawaiian KEANU REEVES, the cool dude whose hip new movie, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, opens this month
by James Cameron-Wilson
For an actor who made his imprint as the laid-back, emotionally zeroed "Matt" in the cult River's Edge, Keanu Reeves is one hyper guy. He can barely stay still for a second, hopping all over the place, his brain alive with new concepts.
"You know we only use one-tenth of our brain?" "You know, it's now a fact that there's anti-matter. You know what means, man?"
If he's not burning rubber on the seat of his Moto Guzzi motorbike (he confesses to driving 130 miles an hour), he's devouring literature with the urgency of a student who flunked senior year in high school (Dostoevsky and Greek mythology are two of his favourites).
And, as if his personality needed any colouring, his upbringing shimmers with the exotic. Born in Beirut of a Hawaiian father (hence the name), he lived a while in Australia and New York, and was raised in Canada.
Keanu is on a kick few men his age (25) get to experience. Dropping out of school at 16 to study acting, he landed a lucrative Coca-Cola commercial, and has been accelerating into the face of stardom ever since.
In the last four years he has appeared in 15 movies, and is in the middle of filming Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure II. Which brings us neatly to this month's release, Bill and Ted's first Excellent Adventure.
Starring Reeves and The Lost Boys' -Alex Winter as a pair of cool, guitar-playing dudes caught in a time warp, Bill and Ted opened in America over a year ago and was predictably shredded by the Critics.
However, Reeves himself was commended for his "beguilingly blank face and loose-limbed, happy-go-lucky physical vocabulary" (a fitting description of the star himself), and the film skewered an excellent 40 million bucks at the US box-office.
A teen-orientated Time Bandits, Bill and Ted is the story of two kids who are about to flunk their history course when they encounter a cosmic benefactor. He, Rufus (George Carlin), offers them the time-trip of their lives, during which they encounter Socrates, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Beethoven, Billy the Kid, and others - enough influential names to make their history presentation an historical one.
But it is Bill and Ted themselves who strike the greatest impression in this uneven, imaginative comedy, aided by some amusingly hip dialogue and an ingenious rock sound-track.
With his role as Ted Logan in Excellent Adventure, and as Martha Plimpton's boyfriend in Parenthood, Reeves has finally displayed his true colours as an actor of exciting range.
Parenthood, of course, was another hit, with Reeves springing out of a stellar cast as the frenzied, wise-before-his-time Tod who helps get his mother-in-law's act together. Who can forget the scene in which Keanu explains to Dianne Wiest her young son's sexual hang-ups, summarising her son (Leaf Phoenix) as "one messed-up little dude"?
"Dude" and "cool" and "man" bounce off Keanu's own lips with the regularity of breath, and one can't help but wonder if he's not now in a position to influence the input of his own roles. The Keanu of yore - Matt in River's Edge, Chevalier Danceny in Dangerous Liaisons, and even Rupert Marchetta in The Prince of Pennsylvania - was a sullen retiring fellow.
When Keanu's name was put forward for the role of the rebellious loner in Pennsylvania, writer-director Ron Nyswaner had his misgivings.
"I loved Keanu in River's Edge, but it was a very serious drama", the film-maker explained. "I had no idea whether or not he could be funny. So the producer and I had him up to the hotel in Los Angeles to talk about the part, and he made us laugh for a solid 45 minutes. After that, I knew Keanu had to be Rupert."
Rupert Marchetta was hardly the bricks-and-mortar of a laugh machine, and one couldn't help but suspect that lines like, "I don't want to be a tadpole, I want to be a dolphin", were unintentionally funny. At best, The Prince of Pennsylvania was an unusual movie, and a platform for some first-rate acting (from Reeves, Fred Ward, Amy Madigan, Bonnie Bedelia).
It is to the future that we must look for the crystallisation of Keanu Reeves' stardom.
Two very promising movies await release here. The first, Lawrence Kasdan's I Love You To Death, is an off-beat, black comedy with Keanu and William Hurt as Harlan and Marlon James, a couple of bizarre hit men hired to eradicate Tracy Ullman's faithless husband, Kevin Kline.
Also, there's a prestigious adaption of Mario Vargas Llosa's fashionable novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. At first, it was David Puttnam who greenlighted the project - until his untimely dismissal from Columbia pictures nixed it. Then the film was resurrected by Alan Ladd Jr., but he, too, lost his studio.
The director, Jon Amiel (The Singing Detective, Queen of Hearts), was desperate. "I began to think there was a hex on it", he says. But Cinecom Pictures came up with $8.2 million, and the surreal romance went into production last summer. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter stars Reeves, Barbara Hershey, Peter Falk, Peter Gallagher and Elizabeth McGovern.
Exercising his skill of the vernacular, Keanu predicts that 1990 should be "always wondrous and weird and whatever".