Christopher Makepeace With a Vengeance

I'm not a perfect person. I have many bad qualities. I say things before I think about them. I'm vulnerable to bouts of insecurity and selfishness. I spend money like I've got it (even when I don't). I suck at laundry. When I'm done listening to a CD I'll put it the first empty case I find, even if it's not the right one for the disc.
But perhaps worse than all of these things combined is the fact
that after all these years I'm still an apologist for Keanu Reeves.
Now before you start looking at me funny, lets make sure we've got something straight here -- he's not a very good actor. Despite all of his successes and experience, Keanu seems to lack the versatility and vulnerability it takes to be able to create a diverse range of characters. He also seems totally incapable of delivering comedic lines that are not supported by visual gags.
Or to put it another way -- had I been the director on Point Break we'd probably still be doing takes of the scene where his sergeant asks him if he has anything remotely interesting to report about his investigation and Keanu replies "I caught my first tube today... Sir.".
If that weren't enough, during any scene where he's expected to interact with other human beings it's almost laughable how much trouble his characters have seeming like they actually give a crap.

In short, watching Reeves fumble his way through films like Hardball or The Replacements (Gene Hackman.. Why!?) is the cinematic equivalent of trying to teach a toddler to take his first steps. There's a lot of wobbling and falling involved, and even when they get it right it's still probably a couple years away from being an effective mode of transportation.
All that being said, I stand by my belief that without him The Matrix wouldn't have worked at all.
Regardless of the fact that he still occasionally feels the need to subject audiences to shit like The Lake House every few years, Keanu seems to be very aware and comfortable with his place as the kind of actor who thrives in event films -- summer blockbusters who's central focus is to get the audience to suspend their disbelief and step into a completely different place where spectacle is king and plausibility takes a back seat to thrills and fun.
Which isn't always as easy to pull off as it sounds.
In other words, Keanu may not be able to make me believe he's a different person on screen, but there are few people in Hollywood better suited to doing what's necessary to convince me that a robotic surveillance insect that infiltrates your body through your bellybutton is actually something that I wouldn't want to run into.

Love it or hate it, this is the effects age of cinema. Great actors and actresses can still create great drama, but it takes a certain breed of performer to look at a green screen 10 hours a day and continually make an audience believe that there's actually something to be amazed and frightened by towering over them on the other side.

But above that, Keanu has a knack for portraying the all-too-familiar formula of someone seeming like a fish out of water in the beginning of a story, only to become the confident hero at the end.
It's the simplest of dramatic tricks, but it's truly amazing
how many people have trouble with it when given the chance.
The best example I have of this is in Return of the Jedi -- where an older, focused Luke Skywalker is supposed to have reached a level of Jedi strength and mastery that enables him to be the kind of threat that even the Emperor fears. This concept is meant to be established in the first scene where Mark Hamill marches unopposed into Jabba the Hutt's palace all dressed in bad-ass black to demand the release of Han Solo -- only to attempt snatching a gun out of some dude's holster to try and shoot the giant slug when his request is refused.
Bringing a blaster to a saber fight -- what kind of bitch move is that?
Which is why when directors make films that require someone to overcome their air of self-centeredness to team up with Ice-T, Henry Rollins, and a talking dolphin to take down an evil corporation intent on.. whatever the hell the deal with that film was supposed to be -- they know they can rely on Keanu to get the job done.

When you're telling a storyline where the wallflower becomes the ass-kicker, or the selfish jerk rises above himself to look out for the good of others -- (especially when faced with giant, CGI-created threats that resemble squids) you need someone who's got a young enough face to appear vulnerable, but who also has the ability to convincingly "look tough" and "stand up for themselves" when the time comes. They need to be cute when they're shy, yet masculine enough for guys to envy when they're blowing away the baddies with machine guns. In other words they have to be likeable as a wimp, but not detestable (or ridiculous-looking) as a hero.
Which is why when Keanu laid out and dodged bullets in slow motion, no one in the audience shouted out "I am Ted from San Dimas, and I bring to you a message of love!"
The problem is that most of us seen Reeves long enough to grow sick of his act. And at 43, he's getting too old for teenagers to identify with or wish they could act just like. Yet despite what it may seem, it's actually a lot harder to find "everyman" actors who can handle the reigns of a movie where they are the central character, but not the actual thing that draws people into the theater.
Which is why the next ten years of our moviegoing lives will probably belong to Shia LaBeouf.
No doubt the kid has the goods, and he certainly has made the right connections along the way (his next project is making the fourth Indiana Jones sequel with Spielberg) -- but make no mistake, just because he is the star of Transformers doesn't mean anyone is actually buying a ticket to see him.

LeBeouf's job in these movies is an easy one -- give the audience a reason to go from robot fight to robot fight, but first and foremost -- stay out of the way of the concept. Give us someone to identify with, but don't make it too human. Think Independence Day -- where the destruction and action were the real draws of the movie, but how much fun was it when Will Smith showed up and started punching rubber puppets in the face?

At the same time he's got his work cut out for him if he really wants to be a star. Think about all the big summer films from the last few years -- how many of the actors in those films really stuck with audiences the way the studios were hoping they would? Sure the movies made a lot of money -- but most big-time summer movies do. But ask yourself this -- who's the last actor who rose above a blockbuster to become that next big thing the way Johnny Depp did when Pirates of the Caribbean took off?
Jake Gyllenhaal?
Orlando Bloom?
Tobey Maguire?
Sure they've had box office success and still draw fans -- but can we honestly say any of these actors have reached the appeal level that the guys in Oceans 148 (or whatever number they're up to this year) have?

Think about it for a second -- whatever happened to Vin Diesel? How fast did people wise up and get sick of Ben Affleck? How is it that I'm totally pumped about Bruce Willis dragging John Mcclane out of the mothballs for what might be the most implausible installment of Die Hard to date, yet couldn't care less about anything Hugh Jackman plans to do ..ever?

There's starring in, and there's being a star -- and they're really two different things.
And if you don't think that's true -- just ask Oscar
winner Cuba Gooding Jr. what he's been working on lately.

[Listening to:    Incubus - "Deep Inside" ]