It’s 3 p.m.! Let The A.V. Club briefly make use of the waning hours of your productivity with some pop culture ephemera pulled from the depths of YouTube.
Keanu Reeves hasn’t always been the zenned out gun-shooter, ass-kicker, and wise-cracker of The Matrix, John Wick, and Bill & Ted fame. Like all heroic figures, he has an origin story that shows how, from humble beginnings, a star is born. Those beginnings, it turns out, are a a bunch of really exceptional TV commercials from the 1980s. You may ask yourself which products Reeves would have endorsed as a young actor, hustling for his big break. The answer, as shown below, is whatever the fuck he was offered.
For example, the following video finds him—a world of mirror shades, black trench coats, and lots of flashy gunfights still far-future glimmers in his eyes—portraying a handsome young worker, setting out bowls and boxes of Corn Flakes for diners at a nondescript, rigidly Kellog’s-supporting Orwellian cafeteria. Whether he’s preparing breakfast at a hotel, school, military barracks, or G7 summit is unclear. What we do know is that his trademark charm is already in full force when, unable to ward off Flake Fever any longer, he sits down for a sneaky bite and reclines in simulated, orgasmic rapture at that trademark Kellog’s taste.
A true chameleon, Reeves slipped into the skin of all sorts of characters during this period of his career. Here he is playing yet another handsome young man for a Black’s Photography sale promo, this time snapping photos and shaking his fluffy head in surprised disbelief over ... the magic of technology? The fact that he got his camera out just in time to capture the moment when the bus hit that old lady across the street? The great prices at Black’s?
Last but not least, an appearance on Letterman unearthed perhaps the crown jewel of the bunch: a Coke advertisement that sees Reeves playing, surprise, a handsome young man competing in a bike race. Tired, sweaty, and unsure if he can go on, the cyclist envisions an older man telling him “You’ve gotta want it!” while he sits on a porch, drinking a bottle of athletic power drink Coca-Cola. He rallies, reaches the finish line, and the older man returns, telling him how proud he is, and handing the cyclist a Coke.
“A Coke,” he wheezes through an exhausted stupor, accepting the drink.
Another cyclist approaches and asks, “Who’s your coach?” Reeves’ character responds, “My dad” and the scene ends with us left to ponder that twist ending.
It’s wonderful work, showing that Reeves had the makings of a beloved actor right from the start. Whether hocking Coke, Corn Flakes, or cameras, the talent was already there, just waiting to be found so Reeves could be elevated to his rightful place among the stars.