The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
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LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: KEANU REEVES

Early in his career, it looked like Keanu Reeves would be typecast as a surfer dude with his performances in Point Break and the Bill and Ted movies. Although he tried to break out from these kinds of roles in films like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Dangerous Liaisons, he looked a bit lost in those costume dramas. Luckily, with action flicks like Speed and the Matrix, he found his stride and became a Legend of the Silver Screen. Today, we’ll be taking a look at three of Keanu’s films.

First up is…

CHAIN REACTION (1996) ** ½

Chain Reaction is one of those movies where all involved were trying to give the people what they wanted to see. Keanu Reeves had just made Speed and figured, “Well, that was a big hit, maybe I should make another action flick”. Director Andrew Davis had just directed The Fugitive and thought, “Well, that was a big hit, maybe I should make another innocent-man-on-the-run movie.” And as a result, the film feels like it was made out of obligation; not inspiration.

Keanu Reeves is a machinist doing work on green energy. His machine figures out a way to sustain energy by extracting hydrogen from water (or something) and is the apple of his think-tank’s eye. When the leader of the science project tries to give away the formula, he is killed and the blame is put on Keanu. Naturally, Keanu goes on the lam and tries to clear his name.

Chain Reaction is a decent enough action/thriller. Like I said, it feels like everyone involved tried to make a good movie, but weren’t exactly working at the top of their game. Of course, it is unfair to compare the film to Reeves’ Speed or Davis’ The Fugitive, but the comparisons are unavoidable. The film does have one terrific explosion early on that is almost worth the price of admission.

While Reeves and Davis were mining familiar territory here, the flick was novel in that it featured the first time Morgan Freeman played the Seemingly Nice Guy That’s Really a Bad Guy (which he’d later play in films such as Hard Rain and Wanted). And it also features the initial appearance of Rachel Weisz playing her trademark Brainy but Sexy Chick. Plus, we also have Fred Ward in the mix as a crusty Fed, which is always a plus.

Reeves and Weisz later reteamed for Constantine.

Next up is…

THE WATCHER (2000) ** ½

James Spader stars as a detective who suffers from crippling migraines and eats lots of Vietnamese food. (Although, if he’s such a great detective, he’d know that the MSG in the Vietnamese food was probably the culprit.) He’s pursuing a serial killer (Keanu Reeves) who obsessively stalks and brutally kills young women. The killer toys with Spader, calls him in the middle of the night, and sends him pictures of his potential victims. Of course, he makes it personal when he kidnaps Spader’s therapist (Marisa Tomei) and threatens to kill her.

The Watcher gives us a great James Spader performance. If you’re a fan of The Spade Man, you will be ecstatic at the level of smugness and cockiness you’d expect from him. His scenes with Marisa Tomei are particularly full of Spaderiness. It’s one of his all-time best performances.

And it has to be said that Keanu is well-cast as the psycho. This is one of the occasions where Reeves’ blank stare and laid back persona enhances the character he’s playing. In something like Dracula, he looks a bit lost, but as a sketchy serial killer, his monotone delivery works to his advantage. (Apparently, he was duped into starring in the film; which makes me question if he was actually even trying. But the fact that he gives most of his dialogue the flattest line reading possible certainly adds to the emotionless character.)

The Watcher is a by and large solid police procedural thriller. It has some great passages (mostly whenever Spader is front and center), but director Joe Charbanic goes overboard with the slow motion and camcorder POV during the stalking scenes. They wear out their welcome fast, help dissolve much of the film’s tension, and are bound to give you a headache. No wonder Spader’s character suffered from migraines!

And our final Reeves flick is…

STREET KINGS (2008) **

Keanu Reeves stars as an Alcoholic Cop on the Edge That Plays by His Own Rules who is part of an elite unit ran by Forest Whitaker. After rescuing two young girls from some Korean slavers, his former partner (Terry Crews) snitches on him for not following proper procedure. When his partner is murdered, Keanu is implicated in the crime. A nosy Internal Affairs officer (Hugh Laurie) comes snooping around asking questions, which complicates matters. With the help of a young cop (Chris Evans), Reeves seeks out to find the real killers and gets caught up in a miasma of corruption, betrayal, and dirty dealings.

Street Kings was directed by David (Harsh Times) Ayer, and like most of his films, it follows characters that blur the line between cop and crook. But the overriding sense of déjà vu lessens the impact. We’ve seen this all before and done much better so there’s really no reason to see it again.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. The opening scene of Reeves’ shooting it out with a Korean gang is pretty good, but the flick gets increasingly muddled as it goes along. Even worse, it gets increasingly boring too. The film goes progressively downhill after the introduction of Reeves’ new goodie two shoes partner late in the game. Speaking of The Game, at least this section of the flick allows you a chance to see Neo beat the snot out of The Game with the phone book; so there’s that.

Reeves is on autopilot for the most part. He’s good in the early scenes where he’s drinking and puking, but somewhere along the way he just becomes another dull clichéd character. The decent supporting cast help somewhat. Jay Mohr (sporting a hilarious moustache) is pretty good as one of Reeves’ partners and Laurie (sporting a weird bald spot) has an odd energy about him. But none of them are able to elevate the material from the been-there-done-that pile.

Join us next time when our Legend will be Robert De Niro.

Tags: .legends of the silver screen, action, c, drama, s, thriller, w
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