From ''Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure'' to ''The Matrix,'' the action star's ''woah'' holds many meanings

By Will Lee
Updated April 16, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Hitchcock had his cameos; Keanu Reeves has his whoa. A study of Reeves’ oeuvre reveals that at some point in nearly all of his films, the actor will utter his signature phrase. Clearly, economy of expression is the star’s strong suit; in each instance, the exclamation actually has a different meaning, depending on its context. Take a gander at Reeves’ tale of whoa.

Film: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
The situation: As the jauntily clueless airhead Ted, Reeves witnesses a phone booth — actually a time-travel machine — fall out of the sky.
He says: ”Whoa.”
He means: ”Hmmm. You don’t see that every day.”

Film: Point Break (1991)
The situation: Undercover FBI agent Reeves jumps out of a plane to prove to a gang of surfers-cum-robbers that he’s as hip as they are.
He says: ”Whoa.”
He means: ”Although I’m doing this as part of my law-enforcement duties, I believe I am actually enjoying myself.”

Film: Speed (1994)
The situation: Bomb-squad stud Reeves is lowered down a shaft to try to save hostages trapped inside an explosives-laden elevator.
He says: ”Whoa.”
He means: ”Please stop my descent. I’ve reached my destination.”

Film: The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
The situation: Reeves joins a shady law firm, gets rich, meets the devil (who turns out to be his boss and his dad), then realizes it was all a dream.
He says: ”Whoa.”
He means: ”Two hours of exposition for this Dallas rip-off?”

Film: The Matrix (1999)
The situation: Training inside a computer simulation, Reeves watches mentor Laurence Fishburne leap from one skyscraper to the next.
He says: ”Whoa.”
He means: ”What an effective demonstration of why the laws of physics don’t necessarily apply in this virtual reality. Thanks.”