If you’ve seen the trailer for “Keanu,” then you’ve already seen 75% of the best bits of the movie. Thankfully there are slightly more hits than misses, but there are still a lot of misses.
Contemporary comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele play Clarence and Rell, two suburban Los Angeles cousins who find themselves posing as ruthless, murdering drug dealers in order to rescue Rell’s stolen cat (a feline who himself escaped a terrible bloodbath at a major illegal drug operation). It doesn’t take long for these straight-laced dudes to find themselves out of their element. When they attempt to infiltrate the 17th Street Blips gang at a seedy strip club, Rell chides Clarence and tells him that he sounds “like Richard Pryor doing an impression of a white guy.” This leads to an amusing bit of improvised gangsta speech that sticks to the tried and true social humor that made Key and Peele famous in the first place.
The absurd story works because it’s played with sincerity. The film might not be consistently hilarious but it sure is a lot of fun. The fuzzy kitten co-star is so damn adorable that whenever he appeared on screen there were dozens of audible “awwwwws” coming from the audience. I did love the theme of undying devotion to your animal companion — Rel and Clarence will do just about anything to get the feline back — and everyone instantly falls head-over-heels in love with the irresistible Keanu as soon as he crosses their path. All this cuteness is offset with a handful of inspired jokes, lots of blood, violence and splashy action sequences; there’s far more action than actual comedy. If you are a fan of shootouts, this will be right up your alley. The film reminded me of “Pineapple Express” with two black dudes and a kitten.
This could be the crazy cat lady side of me talking, but “Keanu” suffers from a major problem: Not. Enough. Cat. The titular feline sadly doesn’t get much screen time and when he does, he steals the show. For those of you who live with cats like I do, you’ll probably get the feeling that not many people involved with the film have actually spent much time around cats. I counted several missed opportunities for jokes about cat behavior (but at least there are two really funny bits involving kitty scratching).
I don’t want to give away the few jokes that work but I will say there are a couple of insider references thrown in that are sure to delight my fellow longtime fans of their now-defunct Comedy Central sketch series, “Key & Peele.” Even if you’ve never heard of these guys you’ll soon find yourself charmed by their undeniable charisma. Given their comedic pedigree is providing the backbone for the film, I was surprised that most of “Keanu” doesn’t work. The movie’s weird emphasis on George Michael was funny at first but quickly overstays its welcome. A drug-induced dream sequence was a premise that was thoroughly wasted (the set-up was there but the execution flopped). More friendly stunt casting (along the lines of Will Forte as a wannabe hip-hop / expert drug dealer and the always amusing Rob Huebel as a potential wife-stealing “friend”) would’ve been welcomed. Anna Faris shows up in a wacky cameo as a coked-up, samurai sword wielding version of herself, and Method Man gives a fun performance as drug dealer Cheddar. There’s one other cameo that I won’t dare spoil for you!
I was a loyal fan of Key and Peele’s television show so I know how funny these guys can be. “Keanu” ultimately let me down because the pair deserve better. It’s not a stinker but it’s what I would only call “a good effort.”
Over the past several years, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have established themselves as comedic forces to be reckoned with. While they have ended their long-running show “Key & Peele” on Comedy Central, “Keanu” gives fans of the duo (like me) hope that the movie announces a new phase in their career and that we can look forward to more features like this one.
“Keanu” has a beautifully simple story: recently-dumped Rell (Peele) is lifted from his depression when a kitten shows up at his door. He and the cat — who he names Keanu — quickly bond, much to the delight of Rell’s best friend Clarence (Key). But then, Keanu is kidnapped by a gang and Clarence and Rell go on a rescue mission — but find themselves in over their heads with the criminal group. Fans of “Key & Peele” are rewarded with some awesome Easter eggs sprinkled throughout.
Key and Peele exhibit the easy chemistry that comes from having worked together for so many years; it’s fun to watch them taking on these roles that, like so many sketches on “Key & Peele,” play with masculine and racial identity in a fun and funny way. They’ve surrounded themselves with a talented supported cast, led by Method Man (playing gang leader Cheddar), Will Forte, and the delightful Tiffany Haddish who plays sometime gang member slash love interest for Rell. The core group works well together, and there is a healthy sprinkling of some delightful cameos that I won’t spoil for you.
The movie fires on all cylinders for the first 30 minutes or so, when the laughs come quickly and naturally. Still, like most comedies the movie can’t sustain the momentum it created in the first act, and is somewhat weighed down by its attempts at character development, which to me seemed a little unnecessary. But it picks up again in the third act where we get treated to a fun action set piece in perfect “Key & Peele” tradition. The conclusion is both appropriate and satisfying, and a very brief Marvel-inspired post-credits sequence is worth sticking around for.
While it’s not as great a movie as I was hoping for, I was thoroughly entertained and had plenty of laughs. If you like the writing and comedy of these guys, you will like this movie, too.