The Dude Abides
by Sara Stewart
What, exactly, is 'Keanitude'?
"It means, 'Of, from, or conveying the essence of Keanu,' " says Lara Naaman, TV writer and longtime Reeves enthusiast. "Keanitude is the ratio of hot to mysterious that Mr. Reeves expresses in each film. The mystery being: 'Is he dumb, or is he just f - - - ing with us?' "
It is a question that has kept countless Keanu scholars up at night - and his new movie, out Friday, doesn't look likely to hold any new answers. In "The Day the Earth Stood Still," Reeves plays perhaps the most perfect distillation yet of Keanitude: He's an alien who's been sent to Earth in human form.
"That's an inscrutable character - that's going to call up some stuff that happens a lot," says Alex Winter, a k a Bill of the "Bill & Ted" movies, who is still close to his '80s co-star.
The "stuff" to which he's referring? The recurring refrain that when Reeves plays an enigmatic role with a limited emotional range, it's not exactly acting.
Though nobody at The Post has yet been allowed to see the film (never a good sign), we can still deduce that this will conform to a couple of the key tenets of a choice Keanu role:
1. Does mass salvation or destruction lie in his hands?
2. Does his character seem, well, kind of spaced out? Not quite there? Otherwise engaged? Just plain . . . blank?
"Keanu's blankness - the thing he's most criticized for - has been the secret of his success," says Brian J. Robb, author of "Keanu Reeves: An Excellent Adventure."
"He is, often, a blank slate onto whom cinema-goers can project whatever fantasies they like. That's why he excels in what some people might think of as 'dumb' action movies like 'Speed,' 'The Matrix' and 'Point Break.' He's ideal for those roles, because the protagonists of those adventures have to be accessible and attractive to as wide an audience as possible. Keanu's minimalism allows for that."
Reeves' "minimalism" (it's gone by less charitable names) has been showcased in many forms since his surfer-cop days. At his best, as with the Christ-like Neo in "The Matrix," it's an integral part of his character. At its most dubious - often involving an accent, as in "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and "Dangerous Liaisons" - he's been critically savaged for being, dramatically, in way over his head.
And then there are the hybrids like Bernardo Bertolucci's "Little Buddha." Yes, he's wearing too much self-tanner, and, yes, his Indian accent is pretty sketchy. But nobody makes a better case for the spiritual joy of an empty mind than Keanu Reeves.
Whether you love him or hate him, Reeves isn't going anywhere. He's one of Hollywood's most bankable stars, thanks in no small part to legions of longtime fans who liked what they saw in "My Own Private Idaho" or "Point Break," and keep coming back for variations on the same.
Sassy magazine founder Jane Pratt was one of the first writers to champion Reeves' less-is-more style. "I went to the press junket on the set of the first 'Bill & Ted,' and I just thought he was so cute," she admits. "But even back then, when he was doing his first big movie, he was still a little bit withdrawn."
Pratt thinks Reeves' technique has served him well, despite the detractors. "I can see why people would think he's dumb, but I think he just doesn't give it all away," she says. "It's all a little bit muted, which I think works so well on a huge screen."
Pratt, currently hosting her own show on Sirius XM, always knew Reeves would be a big hit with the ladies. Her own crush on the actor became a recurring theme in Sassy's pages, and rubbed off on its readers.
"He wasn't traditionally all-American, the way boys were in Seventeen or on TV," says Marisa Meltzer, Sassy chronicler and author of the forthcoming "Girl Power." "Sometimes he appeared in sensitive arty movies, sometimes comedies and sometimes action movies, so there was sort of a Keanu for every girl and every mood."
It helps that we don't actually know that much about him. Reeves is hardly ever featured in celebrity magazines, he doesn't generally date other famous people and he doesn't go where the cameras are. And it is this, says his friend Winter, that's earned him an unfair rap.
Winter has developed a theory about his "Bill & Ted" co-star's reputation as a dim bulb.
"I think he's a private guy, and I think that irritates people," says Winter. "It's not really considered OK to keep your private life to yourself if you're a celebrity. We have this weird sort of expectation that we're gonna know a lot about people, and when we don't, we get pissed off."
So because people have nothing else to go on, Winter says, they've decided there's simply nothing there. Which, he declares, "is like thinking of Sean Penn as actually being Spicoli."