Tweetable Takeaway: #Keanu is adorably absurd and unsurpisingly hysterical. Tweet
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have developed specific kind of humor over the course of their relationship – a relationship that goes all the way back to their Mad TV days. The duo got their break with their Comedy Central show, Key & Peele, which helped them build a massive following in the comedy community with their sharp humor that, like other sketch shows, skewered pop culture through an absurd lens with over-the-top characters and scenarios. What made them stand out from other sketch shows, however, was their clever and unapologetic social commentary on ethnic stereotypes and race relations.
KEANU is an extension of all of this AND it has an adorable kitten at its center to boot. Add a heavy amount of music from the George Michael catalogue for the soundtrack and you’ve got a bunch of things that don’t belong together. But in the hands of Key and Peele, somehow it all makes sense.
Keanu is essentially a Key & Peele sketch stretched out into a 98 minute feature. We’ve seen Saturday Night Live sketches develop into features. Some of them have succeeded (Wayne’s World); some of them were just OK (Superstar); there are some that we would like to forget (Night at the Roxbury).
As much as I like Key and Peele, I was skeptical as to whether or not they could make this work. There’s only so much you can do with a kidnapped kitten, but Peele and co-writer Alex Rubens milk it for all that it’s worth. It’s a valiant effort that pays off — for the most part.
Retroactively inspired by John Wick (the script was written prior to the 2014 action flick’s release), Keanu starts off with a massive and operatic shootout between a drug lord’s gang and two menacing greasy-haired killers. During the massacre, the drug lord’s little kitty manages to escape via a very dramatic slo-mo running scene (there’s a lot of that in this movie). Cut to Rell (Peele), who is wallowing in a pool of tears and bong water after a break-up with his girlfriend. While waiting for his overly cheerful, Topsider-wearing cousin, Clarence (Key) to comfort him, the little kitten escapee comes to his door. They immediately bond and he names him Keanu. One night, Rell and Clarence go out and come back to find that Keanu has been kidnapped. With the help of Rell’s pot dealer neighbor, Hulka (Will Forte), they find out where he has been taken and embark on an adventure that draws them far outside of their comfort zone, which, in turn, delivers some big Key & Peele-style laughs.
Directed by Key & Peele collaborator Peter Atencio, the movie starts off strong with the kind of humor we expect from the two. It’s familiar, fun, and gets the comedy juices flowing. In addition to the pitch-perfect chemistry between the pair, there are plenty of noteworthy details that inspired giggles: the strip club named Hot Party Vixens (HPV), Hulka’s throwback Cross Colors hoodie, and the gangster monikers that Rell and Clarence decide to give themselves: Tectonic & Shark Tank. I laughed. I had a good time. I bathed in the absurdity – but the movie did have some problems.
But as the jokes fail to hit as hard and the momentum starts to lag, the energy dwindles in the movie’s second half. Like some of the aforementioned ‘sketch-based’ movies, Keanu starts to feel like a string of bits rather than a story — but that is not to say that there aren’t moments of joyous laughter. The running joke centered around Clarence’s obsession with George Michael almost reaches its saturation point when he teaches gang bangers the history of Wham! But the bit works especially well when Clarence, high on drugs, becomes totally immersed in the “Faith” video (which also prompts a cameo from Keanu Reeves himself… sort of). Like a lot of Keanu, I’m not really sure what purpose this scene serves in terms of story, but it’s incredibly fun to watch, so I’ll take it.
Despite the sputtering moments in the second half, there were more high points than low. Sticking to their affinity for commentary on racial stereotypes, we see the two very out-of-their-element main characters attempt to be more “hood” by dropping N-bombs while hanging around Cheddar (Method Man) and his gang. Tiffany Haddish provides a hardcore, yet sweet performance as the lone female gang member Hi-C, while Jason Mitchell, Darrell Britt-Gibson, and Jamar Malachi Neighors do what they can to make their “gangsta” characters fun and atypical from what we’re used to seeing.
The movie plays well to the talents and improv skills of Key and Peele and serves as a commendable feature film debut. If nothing else, it’s more than enough to give us hope for their version of a Police Academy reboot – to which the duo is attached to produce. If you love Key & Peele, John Wick, kittens in do-rags, and George Michael, you’ll eat up Keanu like catnip.
Score: 3 out of 5
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer