By Norman Wilner
It's one of those bizarre paradoxes of movie logic that sensitive young actor Keanu Reeves is best known as a complete bonehead.
Up until 1989, he was acclaimed for playing sensitive teenagers in films like River's Edge and Permanent Record. The image spin is due to Reeves' goofy role of Ted "Theodore" Logan in Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure, a character who bears little resemblance to the Toronto-raised actor. (And even less to the brainy high school vigilante he played in Brotherhood Of Justice, a 1986 TV-movie due on videocassette this week.)
Bill And Ted was an unexpected smash, a low-budget time-travel comedy with a little historical significance and a lot of major southern California adolescent attitude. It was also the movie that legitimized the air-guitar and taught a generation how to talk way cool.
And it did well enough to spawn a sequel, the current Bill And Ted's Bogus Journey, which reunites Reeves with costar Alex Winter and sends the pair to Hell. Reeves is dominating the screen this summer with yet another film, playing an undercover FBI agent who befriends mystic surfer Patrick Swayze in the action thriller Point Break.
In Toronto he started acting with a role in the CBC series Hangin' In and attended New York City's High School For The Performing Arts quite by accident - escorting a nervous friend to her audition he was offered a tryout of his own. They both made the cut, but Reeves lasted only a year (he failed an acting class). He kept working at it, however, and landed a part opposite Rob Lowe in the hockey drama Youngblood.
The lead in Brotherhood Of Justice followed, teaming him with hot young actors like Kiefer Sutherland and Billy Zane. Then he played a crazed assassin stalking Charles Bronson in Act Of Vengeance, and a frazzled teen in the comedy The Night Before. But critical notices came for Reeves's turn as Matt, the high schooler who rats on his murderer buddy, in the acclaimed River's Edge.
That led to Permanent Record, playing a student whose best friend commits suicide, and then to a comic turn (and very weird haircut) opposite Fred Ward in The Prince Of Pennsylvania. Next, he donned period dress for Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons, sharing the screen with Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman as innocent piano tutor Danceny.
Two months after Liaisons was released, Bill And Ted hit the screen. (Reeves had made the picture in late 1987, but distributor problems kept it from the screen for more than a year.) The endearingly goofy role of rocker/future god Ted spun Reeves into an entirely new series of roles, most memorably in Parenthood (Ted as a teenage father) and in the black comedy I Love You To Death (Ted as a lobotomized contract killer). Reeves has started angling back to straighter parts, like the New Orleans radio newsboy infatuated with Barbara Hershey in Tune In Tomorrow . . . and action-hero Johnny Utah in Point Break - originally scheduled for last spring, it hit screens just three weeks ago. This accounts for Reeves' omnipresence (Bill And Ted's Bogus Journey came out a week later and he's all over MuchMusic in the video for Paula Abdul's "Rush Rush").
And he's already wrapped his next picture - My Own Private Idaho, which reunites him with Love You To Death costar River Phoenix under the direction of Drugstore Cowboy's Gus Van Sant. A dramatic piece, it's due out in the fall.