by Annabelle Villanueva, with additional reporting by Cindy Pearlman
Despite crashing as Johnny Mnemonic, Keanu Reeves is jacking into the cyberpunk genre again with Matrix.
It might be Keanu Reeves' most excellent adventure yet - the one-time Johnny Mnemonic is downloading another cyberthriller, this one called Matrix. A futuristic actioner, it will be helmed by fraternal critical darlings Andy and Larry Wachowski, the team behind the kinky thriller Bound.
I'm really excited to do it," Reeves says. "It's my first science-fiction kung-fu movie."
Reeves will play Thomas Anderson, a man who believes he's living a normal life in the 1990s until he discovers it's actually a couple hundred years later than that, with human reality being created and shaped by evil computer captors. Anderson breaks free from the delusion and joins a group of insurgent computer hackers (led by a big-name co-star, possibly Laurence Fishburne or Val Kilmer) who have rebelled against the enslaving digital matrix. "I'm a man who thinks he's in 1997 but he's not," Reeves says. "He goes on this journey to find the truth. We're going where only the Wachowskis can go."
The film is a comeback of sorts for the cyberthriller genre. After soaring in the 1980s with films like Blade Runner and David Cronenberg's cyberpunk classic Videodrome, the trend started crashing in the '90s with big-budget flops like, The Net, Hackers, Virtuosity, Strange Days and Reeves' own cyberdud Johnny Mnemonic, which grossed a flimsy $19 million. Still, the Devil's Advocate star's spotty cyber-screen history didn't hinder his net worth - he managed to nab the Matrix role after the Wachowskis pored over a list of other big-name actors, all of whom failed to make the cut. "I think they liked my mind," he muses.
And no one in Hollywood these days is going to second-guess the Wachowski brothers' opinion. Born and raised in Chicago, the twenty-something duo claim to have been a writing team since Andy, the younger of the two, was born. After they both dropped out of college, they ran a carpentry business and wrote comic books together before selling the script to Assassins, which became a modestly successful Sylvester Stallone / Antonio Banderas vehicle. They followed that up with their acclaimed feature directing debut, last year's stylish, sexy lesbian noir tale Bound, a script the brothers wrote specifically so that they'd get a chance to direct.
Meanwhile, Matrix had been booting up for quite some time. A few years ago, the Wachowskis, fans of directors like Sam Raimi and James Cameron, sold the spec script to producer Joel Silver (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon), only to see the screenplay languish in development hell. When they became hot with the indie hit Bound, however, the studios were suddenly interested in whatever scripts were lining the bottom of their drawers.
"We wrote Matrix before Bound, but nothing happened," Andy Wachowski says. It took us a long time to work out the studio system. It's a lengthy process, like watching grass grow."
Filming is stated to begin in Australia in early 1998. As for plot specifics, Larry Wachowski is cagey about revealing too much of the story and explaining how the nefarious computer network will look. "It's sort of like if we were to rewrite Star Wars," he says. "It's our version of [that]."
Is the malevolent machine world on a spaceship?
"Sort of. It's a weird Star Wars, a strange cyber-punky thing," says Andy.
It also marks the first big-budget effort for the brothers, who are being bank-rolled by Warner Bros. this time around.
"That's the problem," Andy sighs like a battle-scarred Hollywood veteran. "When you spend a lot of money, it takes years to get the project going."