KEANU REEVES LEAVES TED IN THE DUST
After getting pigeonholed as the spacier half of Bill and Ted, Keanu Reeves must have wanted to be taken seriously as an actor.
If that was Reeves' wish, it was granted this year. Between "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," "Little Buddha" and "Speed," no young actor in recent memory has had such a burst of diverse film roles. All three have come to video in recent weeks:
"Speed" (rated R for violence and language): "Speed" thrills. That was clearly the verdict in the summer, when this unlikely entertainment emerged as the hit of '94 despite the handful of critics who dismissed it as "Die Hard on a bus."
Truth be told, "Speed" joins a genre already swollen with the likes of "Die Hard," "Under Siege," "Passenger 57" and others, all centered on a common theme: a nonconformist good guy (usually a cop) rescues a throng of frightened hostages on some modern mode of transportation.
"Speed" returns to the roots of the genre for its fuel. In a nutshell: limited dialogue strewn throughout non-stop action.
The film also has the presence of mind to supply an intriguing villain (Dennis Hopper as a mad bomber), and a hero (Reeves) with enough chisel-faced determination to be the next Eastwood.
"Little Buddha" (rated PG for subject matter): Director Bernardo Bertolucci's breathtakingly beautiful spiritual epic, which jumps back and forth from the fifth century B.C. to the late 20th century, has a goofy innocence about it - in no small measure because the great Italian filmmaker has cast Reeves as Siddhartha, the Nepalese prince who wandered into the woods 2,500 years ago and found enlightenment. That's right, he's the Buddha Dude. The other story, the 20th-century one, centers on an American boy who lives with his yuppie parents (Bridget Fonda and Chris Isaak) in Seattle and may or may not be the reincarnation of a Buddhist holy man. Vittorio Storaro's cinematography is beautiful, but neither of the two "Buddha" stories has much zip.
"Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" (rated R for profanity, sex and violence): Gus Van Sant's adaptation of Tom Robbins' cult novel, which was published 18 years ago, represents painful miscalculation and a waste of a great deal of talent on both sides of the camera. Uma Thurman stars as the hitchhiker involved in a feminist revolt at a beauty spa; Reeves and the other actors have been stranded rather than cast.