Here are five words that have turned a tremendous number of stomachs, and may well turn yours: Keanu Reeves as Spike Spiegel. I know they turned my stomach at one point, but then a funny thing happened. I saw a little movie named John Wick, and suddenly the once-proposed notion of casting the former Neo and Ted Logan as Cowboy Bebop's mercenary sort-of hero didn't seem all that undesirable anymore.
My argument is not that Keanu Reeves is the consummate choice for Spike. My point is that after seeing him in John Wick, choosing him is no longer the crimson badge of invalidation that it might have been before. A great many of the things he would need to be for the role are on display in John Wick — enough that if it came down to casting him to make such a thing a go project, it might well work out better than we expect.
If you haven't yet seen John Wick, do yourself that first favor. It's one of those "little films that could", a modestly budgeted action/thriller picture that accomplishes more with what it has than many films four times its size. Reeves stars as the titular out-of-the-game hitman, who Goes Back Into The Game for One Last Shot At Revenge. Emphasis on the shot. It's not the story by itself that makes the movie special, but the treatment: the classy photography, the breakneck action scenes. And, most surprising of all for a film of this stripe, the world-building — the sense that John Wick's story takes place in a universe unto itself with its own mythology and defining attributes. (Bebop has, conveniently, the same quality.)
What John Wick asks of Reeves is modest: he needs to move fast, hit hard, and remain preternaturally unruffled in the middle of utter mayhem. Reeves accomplishes all of those things handily. There is a moment when he's tasked with some moment-of-catharsis acting that's frankly beyond him (it's the movie's one truly weak spot), but the rest of the time, he's poised, cool, detached — that is, when he's not death on wheels.
It only hit me some weeks after seeing the film that I realized Reeves hadn't been asked to do anything in that film that would have been out of gamut for Spike Spiegel. Reeves is comfortable with action, but he's also comfortable with characters who are a little bit detached, easygoing, insular. Big shows of Oscar-bid emotion are not his thing, but they're not Spike's either. To my mind, the most emotional Spike gets, outwardly, is the exasperation he shows when he realizes he's dropped his cigarette lighter and has to crawl back into the guts of his ship and brave potential death to get it. But when he saddles up to go off and meet Vicious in what is certain to be both of their deaths, he barely bats an eyelash.
It takes starpower to make certain kinds of movies. Sometimes that's all it takes; sometimes having a name "attached" to a given project gives it cred that would never otherwise be available under any circumstances. An earlier attempt to get a live-action Bebop off the ground had Keanu's name attached to it, if only distantly, but it stalled because of the proposed budget. I don't know that it would have ever gotten off the ground at all unless a big name of some kind was involved; this was in the days before the current goldrush of interest in anime and manga properties. But even despite all that, the presence of a name is a good insurance policy.
Are there other actors who could do a better job than Keanu? Sure, I don't doubt that. What I'm saying is that if it came down to Keanu, I wouldn't feel anywhere nearly as bad about that choice, now that John Wick has come along. He wouldn't be an ideal choice. But let's not also think he would automatically be disaster.