His first name is Hawaiian, meaning "cool breeze over the mountains." His ancestry is a polyglot of ethnicities, Eastern and Western. Given that, it's a bit surprising Keanu Reeves isn't a bigger star internationally. Or maybe he is. I don't keep track of such things. His career, too, has been a little bit of everything: indie darling, romantic hunk, comedic stooge, serious thespian, and of course, action hero.
This last one has always amused me. I know he's currently enjoying success as a badass in the John Wick movies, but it's always been difficult for me to completely buy him in such a role, for one reason: every time he opens his mouth I want him to be Ted "Theodore" Logan. With Alex Winter by his side as Bill S. Preston, Esq. Keanu keeps insisting he wants to make Bill & Ted 3. I'll be there opening day if he does, but he better hurry. He and Alex ain't getting any younger.
Keanu as action hero isn't necessarily bad. One thing I liked among many about the Matrix trilogy was how grounded Neo was as a character. He's tough without the usual Hollywood bravado you tend to find in action movies - like Speed, for instance. In this one, he's likeable, but he and Dennis Hopper don't do anything different than in so many other post-Die Hard, cop/criminal movies. Keanu even tosses off a James Bond-like quip after Hopper meets his demise! That's the fun of movies like these. It just seems like an odd fit. Bill & Ted aside, Keanu seems more like the soulful, thoughtful type.
Everybody went to see Speed when it came out, but did I? Nope! I had to be alternative. I had to go to the Angelika to see the other Keanu movie out at the time, Bertolucci's Little Buddha. I'm pretty sure I saw it with Vija. I remember feeling so hip and with it because I was seeing this art movie while Speed was ruling the box office. So, of course, I ended up being bored out of my mind by Little Buddha, a largely forgotten movie now. Speed, meanwhile, became one of the greatest action flicks of the 90s and certainly one of the best action movies of all time. Live and learn, I guess.
Imagine what director Jan de Bont (the DP on Die Hard, by the way) had to go through to rehearse this, never mind film it: planning where in LA the action would take place and how, finding the right angles to shoot from, arranging the stunts, making sure the mikes pick up the sound properly, and much of this taking place while in constant motion. Looking at it last week, the thought baffled me: how do you prepare for all of this? I can't imagine.
It goes without saying Speed was made before CGI changed the way action movies were made. A big reason why it holds up after over twenty years is how convincing it all looks, because it's real. That bus really is traveling at 50 mph or faster, with all those people on board (even when it's stunt doubles), so you feel the danger their characters are in, crashing into parked cars, dodging vehicles on the freeway, etc. It's thrilling to watch. And Sandra Bullock is adorable, as usual, as the passenger forced to drive that bus.
It's a fun movie. So why so serious, Keanu?