Even in the most unctuous Hollywood circles, few would disagree that Keanu Reeves is a bad actor. Bad acting has become his trademark: something he embodies in the way that, say, Howard Hughes embodies reclusiveness, or David Hasselhoff embodies delusion.
This hasn't done Keanu much harm, either. Yesterday, I picked up Variety to find him beaming from the front page, next to the words "Alien Invasion!" His new flick, The Day the Earth Stood Still, had topped the week's box-office charts.
The film's a poor remake of a workmanlike 1950s sci-fi movie. Its reviews were awful, with headlines like "Why on Earth did they bother?" and "The Day the Actors Stood Still." Pundits said Reeves was at his most robotic and wooden. Yet audiences lapped it up, to the tune of almost $40m.
It's not the only critical flop doing great business, either. Second in the charts is Four Christmases, a Reese Witherspoon comedy which The Chicago Tribune called "eerily unfunny", and The Washington Post declared: "Several maraschino cherries short of a fruitcake."
Meanwhile, the most eagerly awaited films of the year are being rushed into cinemas in advance of Oscars deadline, and America could barely care less. Baz Luhrmann's epic Australia is flirting with flop status, having recouped only $30m of its $120m budget. The excellent Milk and Slumdog Millionaire have managed just ninth and 11th in the charts.
In short, audiences seem to be taking collective leave of their senses. There's a historical explanation for this: during the last Great Depression, Hollywood experienced a "golden era," when crowds flocked to cinemas in their millions. Yet for most of the period, they watched dreadful old rubbish.
Contrary to popular belief, the era's finest films – His Girl Friday, Citizen Kane, and Casablanca – weren't actually produced until the 1940s, once America's economy was back up and running again.
All of which means the coming years could turn out to be hard going indeed – unless, of course, you happen to like Keanu Reeves.
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