Those who think that Keanu Reeves is the most emotionless actor of his generation might be surprised to learn that he’s promoting a Chinese-American martial arts movie he directed and stars in called “Man of Tai Chi.” Not that you necessarily have to emote when doing stunts as Reeves proved at times in slow motion through “The Matrix” franchise. This is, nevertheless, an acting reinvention for Reeves that we haven’t seen since the days we saw him somehow become a romantic lead.
He’s already gone through some sense of reinvention since “The Day the Earth Stood Still” released five years ago. Perhaps it’s out of design considering Reeves hasn’t been acting in any mainstream features since the above sci-fi flick. But getting noticed isn’t easy when you focus on indie, and audiences are only seeing the ones he’s made in the last year right now.
Whether the first of these (“Generation Um…”) manages to find an audience in its recent limited market is another question. Regardless, that film has Reeves turning into an older and more disheveled chauffeur character we haven’t seen him ever play. Perhaps any arguments that say he’s just portraying himself are as valid as any past accusations of his acting being overrated.
How will he fare, though, as a Kung-Fu action star in the upcoming “Man of Tai Chi?” That brand isn’t stopping, because Reeves also has very mainstream “47 Ronin” coming out in November that’s a fantasy take about a real-life group of ancient samurai. Yes, the dichotomy of the former film being Chinese and the latter Japanese may look a little wide.
Both roles might prove Reeves’ ability to emote considering that he plays a baddie in “Man of Tai Chi.” From all indications, it resembles “Fight Club” in Reeves’ character promoting the idea of people fighting to death. It’s the type of role that he perhaps should have taken years ago, despite the movie filming over the last five years.
Considering “47 Ronin” has plenty of emotion behind its samurai revenge story, it might take Reeves away from pretending to be romantic or a benevolent advocate from space. That might have been why he was accused of being a stiff in the acting business: He simply didn’t fit into those above two categories. It didn’t matter in “The Matrix” movies when everyone in the cast was supposed to have a stiff upper lip.
“47 Ronin” and “Man of Tai Chi” provide a chance for Reeve to finally furrow his brow or show some emotions in his eyes as the best actors do. If he can, he may be able to save his movie career that almost went off the deep end. Conversely, he may also end up going in the same direction of other actors attempting and failing to reinvent their acting personas.
With Reeves once saying that a third “Bill and Ted” movie is in the cards, he may be holding what he did before in reserve in case the reinvention phase flops. It’s the territory that notables like Jim Carrey and Arnold Schwarzenegger have already announced or done to mixed results or response.
At least “Bill and Ted” have excellent adventures being satiric and where Keanu Reeves should wisely poke fun at his once wooden acting prowess.