Fear not Earthlings! Keanu Reeves comes in peace
by Bob Thompson
For good or bad, Keanu Reeves likes to travel in sci-fi movie circles. His Neo in the Matrix series will always be his benchmark. By contrast, his "whoa, dude" in the Bill & Ted flicks count as fodder for jokes. Somewhere in between are A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater's rotoscoped movie illustration of the Philip K. Dick novel, his cyberpunk title character in Johnny Mnemonic and his grim turn in the occult thriller Constantine.
Getting back to his latest presence in the future, there is Keanu as Klaatu in the remake of the sci-fi melodrama The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Opening tomorrow, the new movie is a variation on the familiar theme of an alien warning mankind of its imminent demise. But unlike Michael Rennie's cool Klaatu from the original film, released in 1951, Reeves' spaceman is moody, mercurial and bent on action.
Trying to alter the extra-terrestrial's one-track mind is a heartfelt scientist, played by Jennifer Connelly. Will Smith's son Jaden plays her step-son, and Mad Men TV star Jon Hamm portrays the head of a group of scientists desperately assessing whether the very serious Klaatu and his scary robot Gort (who appears in both movies) come in peace.
Still pivotal, of course, is Reeves' performance as the alien, which exists somewhere between The Matrix's Neo and John Constantine.
Whatever the similarities, the 44-year-old former Torontonian finds sci-fi enticing no matter how often he does the genre.
"I approach it like any other film," says Reeves. "I guess that's the short answer. And I think that science fiction provides great storytelling opportunities. In the past, I had the good fortune to be a part of good stories."
Certainly, The Day Earth Stood Still is a revered example. Directed by Robert Wise, the 1951 black-and-white film was based on a Harry Bates short story called Farewell to the Master, and both the movie and the story are considered classics.
Reeves says that he was aware of the film's status and became convinced that the revision would not tamper with the main themes.
"I had the same questions fans would have, and then I heard the answers," notes Reeves. "I went, ‘OK, it's a worthwhile story.' "
In place of the 1950s nuclear holocaust dilemma of the original is the question of the environment's deterioration in the newest version. And Reeves as Klaatu has a more earthly evolution.
"That was the interesting side of the role," Reeves says. "He starts out as an alien and then becomes quite human."
So what's next for cryptic actor? Not too much that he'd like to give away. He's searching for something that feels right, and it may or may not be another sci-fi part. All that matters is that the screenplay tweaks Reeves' peculiar interests. "I'm not taking a break," Reeves insists. "I'm just trying to find a good film and a good role."
As usual, he's prepared to wait until he finds one. And while he's been linked to sequels for another Bill & Ted adventure and another Speed, he's vague about whether he would be involved. "This is a new kind of thing, isn't it?" he says, smirking. "I guess enough time has passed."
Reeves is straightforward about another sci-fi possibility. "I wouldn't mind doing another Constantine," he admits.
Photo caption: Could this man represent our image of the perfect alien?