The sum of his parts
Multi-faceted Keanu Reeves knows that critics just don't know what to make of him
by Bob Thompson
Alas, poor Keanu Reeves, everybody thinks they know him well.
"Ah, I don't know about that," says Reeves beautifully baffled at the suggestion. "I, uh, really think that, uh, uh, gawd - black out."
This is not a serious medical crisis. This happens to be Reeves' way of saying he has lost his chugging train of thought. What he might've added, if he felt so inclined, is that the real difficulty in getting to know Keanu Reeves is that there are so many versions.
There is the neatly dressed, well-scrubbed, polite Keanu. There is the cranky T-shirt-and-jeans wearing, road-weary biker, and there is the ponderous, soul-searching surfer poet, not to mention the scruffy, unshaven Big Star actor trying to escape his innate prettyboyness.
In this particular case, the Keanu Reeves trying to re-direct his stream of consciousness is actually a hybrid of unshaven Big Star and ponderous surfer poet. To understand and appreciate the concept, you accept that he is not so much a series of contradictions as he is an amalgamation of his variations.
That's why Reeves' gypsy hotelroom service lifestyle and erratic mini-maxi career suits him perfectly. That's also why he's struggling at this second - his ponderous poet is wrestling with his road-weary biker and there is no clear winner. Finally, Reeves decides to do what he usually decides to do - not get too revealing about what everybody knows and what everybody thinks they know.
Denial or avoidance or whatever, Reeves is very excellent at dodging comments on 'what everybody knows.' This is gossip code for his sex preference, his sudden social lapses, his tendency to disappear, his potential as an escapist. Reeves, so far, continues to be mute on sex preference, lapses, disappearing, escapism. But he doesn't stumble or mumble when he offers this assertion as a black out compromise.
"I do know that I am the critics' whipping boy," Reeves says. The 32 year old is not feeling sorry for himself. He is being realistic and objective. He also has a rationalization. "I think that when I went from River's Edge to Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, I stunned some people, then I kinda stunk in Dracula, and that was a drag. And then Speed, and after that they didn't know what to think of me." Whether critics love or hate him in his latest film, Feeling Minnesota (opening Friday), is not a factor. Reeves just plain likes the theme "of how these people are looking for love and trying to get away from their past."
In the Steven Baigelman picture, Reeves plays an ex-con who falls for his brother's (Vincent D'Onofrio) harlot wife (Cameron Diaz). The story depicts the seedy and quirky side of life, but Reeves liked it enough, and had enough power after Speed hit big, to get it made.
"The script had been around a little bit," says Reeves of Baigelman's screenplay, "and when it was brought to my attention I liked it."
The small-budget picture - ironically put together by former Toronto residents Baigelman and Reeves - is in sharp contrast to Reeves' huge studio actioner Chain Reaction, which was released last month.
Reeves nods yes. "Before I acted in Speed, I was doing small independent movies, y'know.
"But working with a studio is great; the scope is grander. My feeling about Hollywood is that it is not generally concerned with specifics of emotions and relationships."
It is concerned about money, and Reeves, better than most, comprehends the amounts. He turned down millions to appear in Speed 2, but that wasn't an anti-studio statement.
"That was hard, career wise and money wise," he admits. "And I know Speed brought me attention and opportunities to act in different pictures, and now I'm throwing caution to the wind to see what happens."
But wait. Wasn't Chain Reaction a stab at starring in a huge summer action movie - again?
"When I was making it," says Reeves warming to the subject, "I didn't think it was a big action picture, and I thought it was going to be released in the fall, not the summer.
"It went in the direction I wasn't expecting. I thought it was going to be dram-action, more drama than action. "Feeling Minnesota has a formula, in that it has a chase in it, but this one differentiates itself from the others."
Reeves is hoping for a little difference in his next project, Taylor Hackford's Devil's Advocate.
"It's a moral allegory," says Reeves proudly.
So is Reeves the devil or the advocate?
"I play a lawyer," he says grinning, "so I'm both."
But of course.
The KEANU REEVES File
BORN: Sept. 2, 1964, in Beirut to Hawaiian-Chinese dad and Brit mom.
PAST: To Toronto for his formative years, then L.A. at 17 to begin his acting career; four years later River's Edge kick-started his career, with an extra boost from Bill & Ted.
PRESENT: 24 films later, most are puzzled by Reeves and his choices, but few deny his box-office appeal - re: Speed and A Walk In The Clouds. His rockband Dogstar - he's the bass player - completed a world tour, but most of its plans hinge on Reeve's movie schedule.
GRAPHIC: 2 photos NEW FEELING ... On the heels of his summer action flick Chain Reaction, Keanu Reeves now stars in the small-budget Feeling Minnesota (with Cameron Diaz and Dan Aykroyd).