Keanu Reeves is a Most Excellent Asshole

Keanu Reeves is having a most excellent summer. Shortly after the pulpy sci-fi dud Replicas drifted through American theaters barely noticed, like a silent fart, Reeves has bounced back into audiences’ good graces with a triple onslaught of well-loved features. Between his starring roles in the increasingly popular action series John Wick 3 and his bit-part stunt-casting in Toy Story 4 & the straight-to-Netflix romcom Always Be My Maybe, it’s been a veritable Summer of Keanu. An actor that was one widely derided as being a one-note, rangeless goofball (especially in his earliest castings in period dramas) is finally getting his due as a loveable, enigmatic screen presence that’s been putting in great work in risky projects for three decades now – an action star of the people.

All of this Keanu love has spilled over from adoration of his work into a rhapsodic appreciation of his real-life persona. This is the year Keanu was officially declared to be The Internet’s Boyfriend, with unusually positive online warmth expressed for how often he works with female directors, how respectful he is of women’s personal space during photo ops, and his loyalty to his martial arts collaborators from his earliest days as an action star. Whatever affection we felt for the endlessly watchable goofball in the relatively ancient days of the Sad Keanu meme has now built to a raging forest fire of online lust & obsession, to the point where we’re even intently listening to his personal philosophy on Death & The Afterlife. You can feel it here locally too, where set photos of a (newly beardless) Keanu during local shoots for Bill & Ted Face the Music has people vibrating with pure love for him (when not concerned about his safety running around in the New Orleans summer heat).

The only downside to all this pure, gushing Keanu love is that it emphasizes how valuable he is as an aloof West Coast heartthrob with an adorable stoner demeanor. Part of the reason we think of Keanu Reeves as a one-note actor is because his early success as Ted Theodore Logan forever typecast him as an adorable bimbo. He’s gradually been able to divert that loveably aloof screen presence into an unlikely career as an action star, but it’s not the only mode Keanu Reeves can play. In fact, some of his most effective, memorable turns onscreen have been against type as monstrous, unrepentant assholes. By all accounts, Keanu Reeves is a wonderful, kind, thoughtful person in real life. He can be a world-class villain when we set him loose onscreen, though, and it’s a shame he doesn’t have the opportunity more often.

Listed below are five stand-out roles where Keanu Reeves excelled at playing a garbage human being, despite his loveable real-life persona. There weren’t many options to choose from (especially if you don’t include grey area selections like his unscrupulous lawyer in The Devil’s Advocate or his adulterous DJ dad in Knock Knock). I’m also ashamed to admit that I didn’t seek out personal blindspots like Much Ado About Nothing (in which he plays a dastardly rogue) and The Watcher (in which he plays a serial killer) before writing this. Still, I believe this quick list of villains Keanu Reeves characters can alone serve as proof that The Internet’s Boyfriend can be an effective, chilling creep when given the chance. He’s more than just a pretty face and a kind stoner-philosopher soul. The man has range. He can be a total asshole.

1. The Neon Demon (2016) – Keanu’s vilest scumbag might be his bit role and Nicolas Winding Refn’s fashion-world art-horror satire. In the film he plays an unforgivable sleazy motel manager in the dingiest corner of LA, preying on the underage runaways who hide away from their parents & obligations while chasing dreams of being a star. There aren’t many things in this world that can make Keanu Reeves grotesque in our adoring eyes, but hearing him advertise access to a young girl’s body as “Real Lolita Shit” will just about do it.

2. The Gift (2000) – The only title I can conjure where Keanu’s anywhere near as despicable as he is in The Neon Demon is his turn as an abusive husband in Sam Raimi’s psychic-visions murder mystery The Gift. He’s powerfully despicable as an alcoholic wife-beater in this sweaty, supernatural thriller. Plus, you get the added bonus of seeing him play a caricature of poor Southerners so broad it would feel at home in an (uncharacteristically dark) SNL sketch.

3. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) – One of the most conveniently concise visualizations you’re likely to see of Keanu acting against type in these villain roles is the one where he gets to villainize himself. In the unhinged, absurdist sequel to the popular 80s time-travel comedy, Keanu plays both Ted Logan and his evil robot doppelganger, who kills the “real” Ted early in the first act. It’s remarkable to watch how easily Keanu curdles Ted’s mannerisms into something so, so very punchable in the dual role (but not too remarkable if you keep in mind the real Bill & Ted’s alarming comfort with homophobic slurs).

4. The Bad Batch (2016) – I wasn’t especially in love with Anna Lili Amapour’s daylight cannibal horror when I reviewed it, but Keanu’s role as the film’s big-bad does stand out as one of its highlights. In the film, he plays a Jim Jones-style cult leader who exploits the devotion of his followers for sexual satisfaction & greedy financial gain. It’s terrifying to think about, since the real-life Keanu could easily rope us all into a desert-dwelling drug cult if he really wanted to. Easy.

5. Always Be My Maybe (2019) – Like with The Bad Batch, I had major problems with the tone & structure of this straight-to-Netflix romcom – which was shot & edited with all the auteurist passion of an overlit Burger King commercial. Still, it’s worth watching for Keanu Reeves’s stuntcasting as “Keanu Reeves,” an extensive cameo where he mercilessly makes fun of his own public persona by making himself out to be an out-of-touch, ultra-wealthy douchebag. Yes, Keanu is The Internet’s Boyfriend, but like most boyfriends he has the capacity to be a total tool.

-Brandon Ledet

The Bad Batch (2017)

It’s insane how rapidly Ana Lily Amirpour’s public estimation has plummeted since her well-received debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night made her one of the top directors to keep an eye on in the indie scene. A couple awkward (to put it lightly) Q&A session and Halloween costume incidents later and Amirpour is sitting at the helm of one of the year’s least loved high profile horror releases. Her druggy, cannibalistic road drama The Bad Batch lacks the critical support its fellow artsy fartsy cannibal picture Raw has enjoyed in 2017, finding few fans to defend its ambling, highly stylized version of a modern horror. I honestly went into the film hoping to file a contrarian opinion and get some blood flowing back into Amirpour’s veins. The Bad Batch boasted the same visual slickness & feminist bent that I enjoyed in her debut, except maybe shifting its palette from Jim Jarmusch to Harmony Korine (particularly his best works to date, Gummo & Spring Breakers). On paper, it’s the exact brand of bright colors & pop music ultraviolence I love in my modernist schlock, but in execution I can’t quite convince myself to enjoy what’s on the screen. What’s even more surprising than the way Amirpour’s reputation has faltered so quickly is that a movie this visually & conceptually exciting can feel so punishingly dull.

In a not-too-distant future, Texas, Florida, and Burning Man have all combined forces to create film history’s tackiest dystopia. The titular “bad batch” are a community of criminal outcasts fenced in outside the rule of law in a Texan desertscape that’s “hotter than the Devil’s a-hole.” A culture of scavengers & cannibals emerges from this outlaw nation, where people fill their downtime with drugged-out raves & prison yard workouts. Suki Waterhouse stars as a fresh-faced newbie to this flesh-eating community, one who immediately loses two limbs to cannibalistic reprobates on her first day as a member of “the bad batch.” She eventually escapes their clutches and makes her way over to a more hospitable raver community, where she gets entangled in a glacial plot involving a missing child. Other recognizable faces in the cast are obscured by bizarre character choices & costuming: Keanu Reeves in Tony Clifton drag as King of the Raves; Jim Carrey as a mute, sunburnt hobo; (most disastrously) Jason Momoa as a Cuban family man. It’s mostly a Battle of the Ridiculous Accents from there, as most of the violence happens quickly & early and the two hour runtime pulls a Terry Gilliam-esque feat of feeling three times its length. For a movie so sure of itself visually & aesthetically, The Bad Batch feels oddly short on ideas to occupy its time.

The most frustrating aspect of The Bad Batch is that it has the building blocks of a much more fun, rewarding movie already in its arsenal. I have no doubt that what Amirpour filmed for the project could be re-edited into a crowd pleasing spectacle of pop horror mayhem. The bubbly soundtrack (which includes needle drops from Ace of Base, Die Antwoord, and Culture Club), Speedos & watermelon-print jorts costuming, and beached jetskis & neon lights set design all suggest a movie far more fun than The Bad Batch ever dares to be. With more energy and a shorter runtime, the film could’ve been a blast as a live action sugar rush, but as a slow-moving art film it just lays there, rotting in the sun. The best parts of the film are dialogue-free indulgences in high fructose imagery (much like A Girl Walks Home, the film’s best scene simply watches a woman enjoy solitude in her bedroom). Any instances of plot or dialogue digging for meaning beyond these surface pleasures are either cringe-worthy, blunt statements of unearned themes or laughable moments like an embarrassingly edited, never-ending acid trip or the Richard Kelly-ish line, “What if all the things that happened to us happened to us so the next things that are going to happen to us can happen to us?”. That’d be fine if the movie were about half as long & twice as fun or violent, but as is its minor pleasures are buried under a massive bore.

I’m not quite ready to give up on Ana Lily Amirpour. I doubt the movie-world at large is either. Her imagery and bloodthirsty Millennial sensibilities are too immediately interesting to abandon just yet, but I’d be a liar if I said The Bad Batch in particular is worth anyone’s time. Until I hear that the film has been trimmed down or punched up into the wild ride horror comedy free-for-all it should’ve been in the first place, this is one Texan dystopia (among many) that I plan to leave forever in the rearview. Let’s just be hopeful and chalk it up as a standard sophomore slump.

-Brandon Ledet