Before there were automated phone voices, there was Keanu Reeves. Where lesser actors smear words together in smooth, syrupy deliveries, Reeves pounds every syllable, separating one from another, as audible puzzle pieces, or chunks of mismatched brick. Brando also put his own spin on the language and was widely considered the finest actor on Earth.
Earth is just now catching up with Keanu Reeves.
As is Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, who took to the New York stage this week in a campy send-up of "Point Break," a cheesy but oddly gripping sports flick that has become a semi-cult classic.
"I was hesitant to try it at first, but once I did I enjoyed it tremendously," Ethier said before Wednesday's game against the Mets. " Everyone involved with the show made it a lot of fun."
The stage version, known as "Point Break Live!" has been around for more than a decade. What usually happens is cast members pull someone out of the audience to play the role of Johnny Utah, the role Reeves wore like a wetsuit. The conceit is that almost anyone, without preparation or talent, can instantly sub for Reeves.
After Monday night's performance, one critic dinged Ethier for putting too much emotion into the lines, which in Reeves' readings were famously leaden. But from most accounts, Ethier hit for the cycle.
"Andre knew the script so well, he barely had to read" the cue cards, said actress Kate Ross, who played his love interest, Tyler.
Because the actor who plays Johnny Utah is usually plucked from the audience moments before the show, the crew holds up cue cards, which the newcomer usually struggles with — all part of the gag.
In Ethier's case, the role was no surprise. Major League Baseball set it all up as part of an upcoming video. The show, usually close to two hours, was cut to 45 minutes. To make it suitable for MLB airing, raunchy language was removed.
What survived are some of the most memorable scenes from the movie. As when Johnny Utah chases down a bank robber in a Ronald Reagan mask, then can't bring himself to shoot him. Or when he dives out of a plane without a parachute.
"Found one of your passports to Sumatra, I missed you by about a week at Fiji," Johnny Utah says. " But, I knew you wouldn't miss the 50-year storm, Bodhi."
Not for nothin' do you get to be a semi-classic surf flick.
Earlier this week, on an off-day before the series against the Mets, Ethier donned a wetsuit, pretended to surf, and jumped from a table dressed to look like a plane.
Before an audience of about 100 at Brooklyn's Knitting Factory, Ethier even endured customized taunts.
For instance, in the movie, Johnny Utah was a former Ohio State quarterback with a bad knee. In the Ethier version, Utah was a former Dodger with a bad wheel.
In one of his most-memorable scenes, Ethier had to drag himself across the stage.
"After a certain point in the shootout, the stage manager reminded him that he has an injured knee, and he crawled across the stage," Ross said. "He even remembered which knee was hurt."
That's just good acting.
Other classic roles we'd like to see Ethier tackle:
• Bill Murray's part in "Stripes."
• The chubby kid in "Book of Mormon."
• Iago in "Othello."
Like a lot of ballplayers, Ethier can be engaging one day and moody the next. I always found him more interesting than most. With working-class roots, he takes nothing for granted, and spends trips seeking out great places to eat — the more unusual the better. Plus, on a relatively bombastic team, he's got a quiet cool.
Whatever his role on the Dodgers is these days, he's been fully accepted by the cast and crew of "Point Break Live!" whom he treated to tickets to one of the games against the Mets.
"You certainly don't know what to expect from people with a certain degree of celebrity," noted his co-star Ross, an L.A. native and the daughter of actress Markie Post and TV writer Michael Ross.
"But he was so gracious and so fun," she said. "He was making conversation with everybody."
For Ethier, the experience marked the extent of his acting ambitions.
"If there are any more 'Point Break Live!' shows that need my help, I'll be happy to step in," he said. "But I think that's my limitation."