Keanu Reeves isn't a bad actor, really. He's more like a tool that a director has to use very specifically. If you need a blank--someone the audience can easily project themselves onto--you get Keanu and you have him goggle wide-eyed at fantastic things while more "Whoas" fall out of his head than an epileptic Joey Lawrence.
For some reason when Google Image searching for
Joey Lawrence, it only returns pictures of Lex Luthor
Director Taylor Hackford made the same mistake Francis Coppola made in Dracula, expecting Reeves to stand in the same room as an acting powerhouse (Pacino in Advocate, Gary Oldman in Dracula) and not get blown away like a cotton ball tossed in front of a jet engine. To be fair, Advocate was built almost solely for that last 20 minutes in which Pacino eats every last inch of the set and shits Oscars. That scene was preceded by 80 minutes of movie where an actor with dimensions beside balsa would have enriched the film overall.
Actors such as Brad Pitt, John Cusack and Edward Norton were all considered for the role of Kevin Lomax. Any one of them could have played the conflicted, morally tortured lawyer more convincingly, and definitely could have managed something remotely resembling a Southern accent better than Reeves did. How hard is it to pull off a Southern accent? You huff paint, shoot some rotgut bathtub whiskey and ask yourself what a Larry the Cable Guy fan would sound like. Jean Claude Van Damme could do a better Southern accent, and he can't even talk.
IMDB explains the casting of Kubrick's least regarded film thusly: "According to writer Frederic Raphael, the final form of Bill's family name (Harford, as opposed to Scheuer in the original story) was inspired by a debate about Bill's character. Raphael felt Bill should be Jewish as in the original, but Stanley Kubrick insisted Bill and Alice be "vanilla" Americans, without any details that would arouse any presumptions. Kubrick said that Bill should be a bit like Harrison Ford - hence the name Harford."
Why if it isn't Joe Everyman himself.
Kubrick made the unfortunate decision to stunt-cast Tom Cruise and his wife Nicole Kidman, well before anyone realized what a horrific idea that was. Of course, the couple weren't so much "vanilla" as they were way more uncomfortable around one another than any married couple should be. According to the actor R Lee Ermey, Kubrick regarded the film as a "piece of shit" and claimed that Cruise and Kidman "had their way with me."
The film wasn't as bad a Kubrick feared, but his concerns do raise the question: Why not go after the guy you're patterning the character after?
You get a better actor who maybe, invigorated after working with Kubrick, doesn't turn into a perpetually stoned stroke victim. Ford probably then ends up taking the role in Traffic, instead of abandoning it to Michael Douglas, and wins himself an Oscar. Any possible future where we're spared Hollywood Homicide is a future worth pursuing. And Eyes Wide Shut? Han Solo fumbles with his junk at an orgy. Indiana Jones awkwardly hits on a 15-year-old Lelee Sobieski. Jack Ryan starts licking his wife while checking himself out in a mirror. It would have been Harrison Ford as you've never wanted to see him. The most squirmingly uncomfortable thing Kubrick ever put on film, just like he wanted but for all the right reasons.
Find out about some other movies that could've been improved upon, in 6 Insane Fan Theories That Actually Make Great Movies Better and 5 Awesome Movies Ruined By Last-Minute Changes.
Check out some more from Fatboy. because you need to stay inside. Your genitals will freeze out there.
And check out some ridiculously awful ice skating outfits from our friends at the Huffington Post.