Reeves returns for a piece of the ACTION
by Stan James
He roared along the road to stardom and box-office success with Speed but he hasn't been able to keep up the pace. Since scoring that smash hit, Keanu Reeves has spread his net far and wide in a variety of unconventional roles which have not belted along his career.
After romping through Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, striding through the vineyards in A Walk in the Clouds and losing his mind in Johnny Mnemonic, Reeves returns to the action front in Chain Reaction, co-starring with Morgan Freeman.
In the action thriller, which opens today at Hoyts Regent Cinemas, Reeves is student machinist Eddie Kasalavich at the University of Chicago, who, with scientist Lily Sinclair, played by British actress Rachel Weisz who impressed in Stealing Beauty, is involved with the creation of a new, clean, limitless energy to replace gas and oil.
After years of research a team at the university has tapped a simple, yet almost infinitely powerful way to produce energy from water for a fuel-starved, pollution-weary world.
Of course, there are great and powerful opponents of such a source of energy and Kasalavich and Sinclair find themselves caught in a chain reaction of murder and high-tech espionage.
The couple become fugitives after being framed for the murder of their mentor, visionary scientist Dr Allistair Barkley, along with the sabotaging of their laboratory, which wipes out eight blocks of southern Chicago.
Barkley was determined to give details of his discovery freely to all nations, so it's not surprising he is bumped off.
Reeves's character lacks the formal education of his colleagues but he made a key contribution to the device which could solve the world's energy problems.
A complex, exciting contradiction of blue-collar grit and intuitive grace, Eddie is propelled into a world of global politics and powerful entities he initially can't begin to comprehend, running for his life from people he thought he could trust.
"I was attracted to the journey Eddie has to take,'' says Reeves.
"He is a young man who has to come to terms with what he is actually participating in by creating this new technology.
"Suddenly, he finds himself involved with the government and big business.''
Freeman is Eddie's mentor, Paul Shannon, a mysterious figure who runs the organisation funding the project. Chain Reaction's executive producer, Richard D. Zanuck, has been a fan of Morgan Freeman, since using him in Driving Miss Daisy.
"Morgan always adds a sense of legitimacy, a sense of honesty, to any project in which he's involved,'' says Zanuck.
"Only an actor of Morgan's great credibility could put across Shannon's ambivalence and complexity.''
Freeman, 59, who has thrice been nominated for Oscars - Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy and The Shawshank Redemption - was fascinated by Shannon's character.
"He is an extremely wealthy individual with very high echelon contacts,'' says Freeman.
"He has a lot of power. Couple all that with his relationship to Eddie and I saw a lot of possibilities in this role.''
Chain Reaction was filmed in last winter's freezing, below-zero Chicago weather under the guidance of director Andrew Davis, who scored big hits with The Fugitive and Under Siege.
"During the course of one day and night, it was so cold the Chicago Fire Department notified its personnel to stop working with us unless it was an emergency - and there we were still shooting,'' says Davis.
"Some scientist friends, who were members of a research team based at the South Pole, sent an e-mail telling us it was warmer there than it was in Chicago.
"They would work outside for one hour at a time, and there we were working in Chicago for six hours without a break.''
"It was difficult for everyone, particularly for me, because I'm tropical,'' laughs Freeman.
"I don't do cold weather. This was Chicago... in the winter. I was actually ill in bed, four days at a go. It was really tough.''
The scientifically minded Eddie and Lily's team discover an inexpensive way to extract hydrogen from water. The process, known as sonoluminescence, is a method of trapping intense sound waves in liquid, producing single bubbles of gas containing so much energy they are bright enough to be seen in a darkened room.
Perhaps they will be bright enough to throw some light on Reeves's career and bring it out of the shadows.