Keanu Reeves: Excellent Adventure in Hollywood

George Carlin, Alex Winter, and Keanu Reeves in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (Orion Pictures, 1989)

There once was a Canadian actor who hit it big playing a sweet-natured naïve musician time-traveling to avoid flunking history in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989). Hollywood was charmed by this young man and he went on to star in action films, romances and big blockbuster sci-fi films. Keanu Reeves was that likable doofus, and he formed his own rock band, Dogstar. Oddly enough, there were few comedies in Reeve’s long list of films, except the follow-up films in the “Bill & Ted” series. He seemed to leave that silly persona behind.

How did Keanu Reeves morph from stoner dude in torn jeans to become a martial action star, often impeccably dressed, with a somber expression and lightning-fast reflexes?

Reeves went from an undercover cop infiltrating a surfer gang robbing banks in “Point Break” (1991) to portraying the young police officer helping Sandra Bullock steer the bus in “Speed” (1994). His blockbuster “Matrix” films cast him as the inscrutable action hero, Neo, with an aura of Zen and a predilection for speed and agility. The films were groundbreaking in their action sequences with Neo able to dodge flying bullets and later in the series, to fly. There were a few forays into romance and comedy, they didn’t seem to draw audiences as much as his action films.

The “grains of rice” in the hourglass are bullets, “John Wick: Chapter 4”, Lionsgate

The John Wick series thrusts Reeves into another dark world with constant battles. Unlike the Matrix films, his character isn’t out to save the world or rescue anyone, John Wick is out for revenge. A former hitman, Wick is pulled back into the trade in these neo-nior action thrillers to avenge the death of his wife and dog. There are few moments of levity — the series is very dark with an occasional dry witty remark. What little compassion Wick has, seems to be reserved for dogs. There’s no time for romance and little intrigue. The films exist as excuses for elaborate fight scenes, often beautifully choreographed, like violent ballets of interchangeable villians.

This final John Wick film, “John Wick, Chapter Four” (Chad Stahelski), has even less time for any set-up or world-building. You’re dumped right into the desert following Wick as he shoots minions riding horses across the sand. The settings are beautiful and as Wick travels from New York to Berlin to Paris, there are incredible arenas built as killing fields.

The Japanese hotel features a lovely blooming cherry tree for Wick to contemplate in deep melancholy as he greets an ally and friend (Hirokuki Sanada), who’s life he’s now jeopardizing. There are fight scenes in an industrial kitchen, a gallery of art glass with Japanese warrior outfits and weapons displayed, and a lovely courtyard for a swordfight with a blind warrior (Donnie Yen).

No, he’s not talking to his wrist, Wick is using his bulletproof jacket to protect his face

Paris is the final city and features some more showstopping settings. There’s an incredible shoot-out in the roundabout at the Arc du Triomphe and a showdown at dawn at Sacré-Cœur. The price on Wick’s head keeps going up as dawn approaches and every criminal with a weapon arrives on the scene to try to kill him. It becomes ludicrous as Wick tries to climb the stairs to the basilica with constant gunfire knocking him back down each flight.

Some of the cast of “John Wick: Chapter 4”

The villain who now leads the High Table is Marquis Vincent de Gramont, played by Bill Skarsgård. A dandy with a constant sneer, he seems less menacing and more petulant. There’s a welcome return of some of the prior characters, like Winston (Ian McShane). In an echo of the Matrix films, Laurence Fishburne plays a crucial role, turning up with words of advice, weapons or a bulletproof suit.

The movie is non-stop fight scenes and Wick is given a wide variety of weapons to use in battle. He wields a variety of guns, swords, knives, num-chuks and even axes. It’s his unusual fighting style and his ability to get back up that make the film unusual. Wick seems indestructible. He’s shot, stabbed, hung by a noose, thrown off a bridge, into/over/under a moving car and many times–thrown down the stairs. He’s the Wile E. Coyote of martial arts except Reeves makes Wick’s pain and suffering evident with each grunt and groan and impact.

This is the last John Wick film, and it’s a long road from his comic voice work in “Toy Story 4” (1994). For those of us that miss the warmth of Keanu Reeve’s earlier work, maybe after “John Wick 4”, Reeves can enjoy a few silly or joyful roles once more. He’s charming in interviews and I admire his incredible generosity and humbleness. Keanu Reeves has had an incredible life and he’s overcome many personal tragedies. I’d love to see a film where he doesn’t have to be so serious or endure and inflict so much brutality.

Drinks with Films rating: 2 sakes (out of 5) for the choreography and cinematography

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s