Evening Standard (UK), July 16, 1996

The Keanu enigma

The gorgeously vacant Keanu Reeves is in London with his 'folk-thrash' band. Neil Norman reviews the crash-and-burn film career, while Max Bell plays the record.

Ask most women (and some men) whether or not Keanu Reeves can act and invariable the answer is: "Who cares?"

It is generally agreed that when one is blessed with the aesthetically-pleasing appearance of someone like Reeves, considerations of talent are marginal, if not wholly redundant.

But the fact remains that Reeves is an actor and is called upon, from time to time, to inhabit the persona of somebody else. How successfully he achieves this, and with what consistency, is a matter of debate. This is a man, after all, who takes his craft seriously enough to have attempted Hamlet, albeit at the Manitoba Theatre Center in Canada.

His appeal - once described as "pansexual" - is a rare combination of exquisite, untouchable beauty and simple lust. Consequently, it is all too easy to write him off as a Beautiful Thing, a talent-free zone - young, dumb and full of ejaculatory fluid. Indeed, many of his most successful roles conform exactly to this description of a naif whose innocence is almost pathological, a happy hedonist with the body of Apollo and the brains of a lobotomised zombie. Ted, in the Bill and Ted movies, is the benchmark of this character which has become synonymous with Reeves himself.

But delve beneath the Keanu/Ted Valley Boy Headbanger character and you find some surprises. His alienated teenager in River's Edge (1987) was thoroughly convincing; in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991) he successfully achieved the transition from rentboy street punk to responsible heir after inheriting his father's fortune. It was a chilly, uncomfortable manoeuvre, but Reeves was equal to it.

Adequate as the boy cop in Speed, he was much better in Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break, where his natural inclinations towards sun, sea and surf were straitjacketed in a role reversal as the uptight, by-the-book FBI agent who pretended to be a surfer. And he was well nigh perfect in Parenthood, as an enthusiastic lover but an accident-prone drag-racer.

Iconic in Little Buddha, Reeves at least looked the part and stalled the laughter even as he appeared on the screen. And he was touchingly effective in Dangerous Liaisons as the Chevalier Danceny.

His inadequacies as an actor are revealed most clearly in bad movies. His attempt at a Victorian English accent in Coppola's Dracula reduced many a critic to tears of laughter; similarly, the lamentable Johnny Mnemonic showed just how bad he could be without a strong guiding hand. His Don John in Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing may have been virile but ultimately failed to convince. As for the terminal stupidity of A Walk in the Clouds, the least said the better. Ditto Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.

Reeves is often described as vacuous - possibly due to his habit of lapsing into Bill and Ted speak during interviews - which is only half true. His singular talent, it is said, is his ability to empty himself (a process which may take him less time than most actors) and allow himself to be filled with the characteristics of a big screen character.

If he has a problem, it is that he relies too much on instinct, though when it works it allows him to be a convincing person who happens to look like Keanu Reeves.

Ultimately, his career as an actor may be limited by his looks, which he inherits from his half-Hawaiian, half-Chinese father. But at 32, he has some way to go before worrying unduly. And when a blank canvas looks as universally attractive as Reeves even before the first brushstroke has been applied, who cares?

Very pretty, but can the boy play?

Ever since James Dean was thrown out of Third Avenue's sleaziest bars - "and take your goddamn bongos with you" - moody method-acting film stars have suffered from the delusion that because they can memorise four pages of monosyllabic dialogue they are therefore natural born musicians.

Bass-playing Keanu Reeves is merely the latest celluloid hero to foist his limited rock'n'roll talents on an unsuspecting world but he is in good, or rather bad company. Keanu's competent yet wholly unremarkable band Dogstar - named immodestly after Sirius, brightest star in the sky - follow in an inglorious tradition which includes Sal Mineo, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis and, of course, Johnny Depp.

Dogstar are signed to RCA subsidiary Zoo. Their debut EP Quattro Formaggi, inspired by the guys' favourite pizza, should have been released yesterday, but because the band refused to promote it in this country, the label is, in turn, refusing to distribute it here. A debut album, produced by Ramones' knob-twiddler Ed Stasium, is on the autumn schedule.

Sadly, even Keanu's closest friends can't decide whether Dogstar are actually any good, although the word on the Strip is that they are "very tight". To their credit the trio, completed by struggling actors Rob Mailhouse and Bret Domrose, have gutsed out prestigious support slots with David Bowie at the LA Palace, and Bon Jovi at the LA Forum, and completed a fairly successful month-long tour of Australia and Japan.

Tragically, Dogstar have received terrible reviews in America, especially after a rickety performance of their single Honesty Anyway on the David Letterman Show revealed it to be a terrible dirge reminiscent of a nightmarish pairing between Pearl Jam and Bush. Reeves describes their sound as 'folk thrash', which sounds cool but doesn't mean much round here.

While they intersperse original material with unlikely covers of the Grateful Dead, Joy Division and The Jam's This Is The Modern World, that hasn't stopped legions of girl fans from mobbing KR in clubs in an effort to lower his Calvins.

He's not a bad bass player either, according to Sting, who asked Keanu to play on one of his solo albums, and the man voted America's Hottest Pin-Up by Smash Hits readers has even started writing songs. One called Isabelle is about a friend's little girl, while Round C "is about love, although it's named after a whole cheddar".

The cheese-obsessed thesp is evidently enjoying his sabbatical but would be well advised to resume projects like Feeling Minnesota and Speed 2 soon. One top BMG mogul said: "I predict great things for Keanu Reeves in his music career." Nobody else does. Don't give up your dayjob, son.

Article Focus:



Dogstar , Hamlet , Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure , Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey , River's Edge , My Own Private Idaho , Speed , Point Break , Parenthood , Little Buddha , Dangerous Liaisons , Bram Stoker's Dracula , Johnny Mnemonic , Much Ado About Nothing , A Walk in the Clouds , Even Cowgirls Get the Blues , Feeling Minnesota , Speed 2

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