John Wick: Chapter 2 opens today, and while that film quite doesn’t fit within io9's science fiction/fantasy borders, star Keanu Reeves has certainly devoted a large chunk of his career to those genres we love best. So now seems a good a time as any to remember his oeuvre. His performances don’t always vary much, but the films sure do—and here they are, from bogus to excellent.
In 2008, director Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange) released this update to Robert Wise’s 1951 scifi classic; both films are based on the same short story by Harry Bates, and are about interstellar visitor Klaatu, who comes to warn Earthlings that they better change their destructive ways, or else. Despite a well-intentioned update that gives the film—originally about Cold War-era nuclear fears—an environmental message, the only memorable thing about the movie is its most famous line: “Klaatu barada nikto.” Reeves is definitely convincing as an alien, though.
In this made-for-TV Christmas special, tweenager Drew Barrymore is transported to Toyland, a decidedly un-cheerful place ruled by a sinister villain with a troll army who torments all the other nursery-rhyme characters, including Reeves’ “Jack Nimble.” Fortunately for Reeves’ fledgling career, 1986 was a very busy year for him—including a role in the critically acclaimed River’s Edge, which surely opened many more doors for him than Babes in Toyland ever did.
Reeves falls in love with Sandra Bullock thanks to letters filled with syrupy prose (“How’s your sunset?” “It’s perfect”) exchanged via a magical, time-warping mailbox. Here’s the truth: this is a sappy-ass movie. Scratch your Reeves-Bullock itch by rewatching Speed instead.
Eli Roth directed this sorta send-up of the torture porn genre he helped popularize. Reeves plays a man who is preyed upon while home alone one dark and stormy night by two nubile female home invaders. “Chocolate with sprinkles!” is hilarious, but the rest of the movie is mostly just unpleasant.
A box-office bomb about a half-English, half-Japanese swordsman who becomes entangled in a love triangle and an elaborate revenge plot in 18th-century Japan. As the trailer suggests, there are also quite a few magical elements, including a witch who can transform herself into a dragon. There are some great actual Japanese actors in this (Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), and the special effects are suitably lavish. But the movie is just weirdly boring.
Reeves has a small role in Nicolas Winding Refn’s surreal fashion-world horror fantasy. He plays the manager of the sketchy motel that fresh-faced young model Elle Fanning has unwisely decided to make her home base in Los Angeles. Aside from generally being a sleaze in the waking world, Reeves’ character appears to the protagonist in a chilling nightmare, in which he forces her to deep-throat a knife. But that’s just one of The Neon Demon’s many horrific images—although it doesn’t involve copious gore like many of the others do.
Reeves plays a shaggy-haired science genius who discovers a revolutionary means of creating clean energy, a scifi plot point that immediately takes a back seat to the film’s main goal of being a conspiracy-driven, fast-paced thriller. There’s a lot of racing around and explosions, but the bad guys are played by Brian Cox and Morgan Freeman, which helps make the film’s more conventional elements more stupidly entertaining than they deserve to be.
Alex Winter, the Bill to Reeves’ Ted, co-directed and stars in this cult black comedy about a freak show populated by formerly normal people who’ve been infected with toxic fertilizer. Reeves (in an uncredited role) plays their leader, Ortiz the Dog Boy. He’s barely recognizable under his heavy, furry make-up. As you can see, Mr. T plays the Bearded Lady.
Reeves is the title character, a man with a data storage system implanted in his brain, in this cyberpunk tale adapted from William Gibson’s short story. The rest of the cast is amazing (Ice-T, Dolph Lundgren, Takeshi Kitano, Udo Kier, a dolphin) and artist Robert Longo delivered distinctive visuals in what will probably always be both his first and last feature film. But critics and audiences didn’t bite. Fortunately, Reeves didn’t let one dystopian under-performer deter him from doing The Matrix just four years later.
Reeves takes on the title DC Comics character, a demon hunter who’s doomed to hell and spends his time on Earth chain-smoking and helping a cop (Rachel Weisz, Reeves’ co-star in Chain Reaction) who fears for her twin sister’s afterlife in the wake of her suicide. This movie has aged quite well, although these days most people associate Constantine with actor Matt Ryan, who’s played the character on multiple TV shows, rather than Reeves. Despite his clear fondness for action films, this is the only time (so far) that Reeves has ventured into the comic-book world.
Much like in The Neon Demon, Reeves has a small but unsettling part to play in this gothic supernatural thriller, the last film Sam Raimi made before going on Spider-Man trilogy lockdown. It’s mostly the Cate Blanchett show—she plays a small-town Southern psychic who becomes involved in a murder investigation. Reeves plays the abusive husband of one of Blanchett’s clients who becomes the case’s chief suspect. The Gift, which was co-written by Billy Bob Thornton, hits some obvious story beats along the way. But with Raimi behind the wheel, you’re guaranteed at least a few quality frights.
Remember how excited you were for the rest of the futuristic action trilogy, after the first Matrix movie was so good?
And remember how bummed you were when you realized lightning didn’t strike twice (and certainly not three times)? Reeves, at least, is consistently watchable.
Obviously Al Pacino’s scenery-chomping theatrics as the actual devil, currently spending time as the ultimate high-priced lawyer, is are the best thing about this movie. But there can be no Satanic temptations without some ambitious sucker around to take the bait, which is exactly what Reeves’ hotshot young lawyer ends up doing. This movie is stupidly but massively entertaining, and while Pacino can take most of the credit for that... he can’t take all of it.
Another Reeves sequel that doesn’t quite live up to what came before, but Bogus Journey still has its charms. Like the above clip, for instance.
Richard Linklater adapts Philip K. Dick’s novel using rotoscope animation, an ideal format for a tale about drug addition, police surveillance, hallucinations, and paranoia. Heading up a great cast (Robert Downey, Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder), Reeves plays an undercover agent who becomes more and more disoriented as he becomes dependent on the very drug he’s ostensibly trying to get off the streets.
Is Francis Ford Coppola’s horror fantasy a genuine cult movie by now? It should be. Gary Oldman’s campy turn as the title vampire gets most of the love, but the supporting characters—including an exceedingly earnest Reeves (THAT ACCENT!) as the guileless Jonathan Harker, whose bumbling journey to Transylvania sets the whole plot in motion—are also worthy of note.
The Wachowskis’ uniquely stylish, groundbreaking movie is almost 20 years old now, so some of the technology has become distractingly dated. (Imagine trying to find a pay phone in the year 2017.) But it still holds up anyway: the discovery of the secret world below what we all believe to be real, the startling visuals, the sleek costumes, the fight scenes, and (of course) all of Reeves’ signature moments.
Sorry, Marty McFly, but this is the best time-travel movie ever. And little bits of Ted have followed Reeves throughout his career, from his Point Break surfing escapades to Neo’s fondness for the exclamation, “Whoa!”