Keanu Review

Comedy duo Key & Peele make the feature film jump with the catty Keanu. Read our review...

For those not in the know, Key & Peele are a comedy duo whose self-titled Comedy Central show ran for five seasons and was built around sketches that focused on satirizing pop culture, race relations, and societal stereotypes. All of those memes are present and accounted for in Keanu, the duo’s first feature film project together. But while there are a number of hilarious moments scattered throughout the film, a viewer going in cold (like this one) might find the mix of humor and violence jarring and the material laboring to fill 100 minutes or so.

This writer has never seen a single episode of Key & Peele, but two things quickly become apparent as Keanu unspools: Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key are clearly talented and also clearly have a great comic chemistry together, but it also seems that working outside the sketch comedy template is more challenging than they might have thought. Keanu ambles along, buoyed occasionally by some good jokes and one of the most adorable felines ever to purr and slink across a screen, but at some point, it just sputters out of energy and eventually feels like a pointless exercise.

As the movie opens, we meet the title furball, an unbelievably cute and charismatic kitten who belongs to a drug dealer and somehow manages to escape unscathed when his owner and the owner’s minions are massacred in a shockingly brutal scene by the Allentown Brothers (also played by Key & Peele), who look like bikers crossed with the hordes of hell. Keanu wanders through Los Angeles and ends up at the home of Rell (Peele), an unmotivated stoner made even more inert by a recent break-up. But the sight of the kitten on his doorstep gives Rell a reason to live, even more so when another set of drug dealers – led by the vicious Cheddar (Method Man) – kidnap the kitty during a mistaken raid on Rell’s apartment.

Rell enlists his sanded-down, all-but-vanilla cousin Clarence (Key), a just-so and rather ineffectual husband and father, to help him retrieve Keanu at all costs, a plan that involves the two impersonating the Allentown Brothers (albeit in khakis and button-downs instead of leathers and necklaces made of human fingers), lowering  their voices, and throwing a generous helping of the N-word and lots of less incendiary but still out-of-character street slang into their conversations with Cheddar, who somehow buys that they are a pair of sadistic killers and brings them into his operation, all while Keanu flits frustratingly in and out of Rell’s reach.

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It ends up a mix of fish-out-of-water, code-switching comedy and lightly satirical take-off on films like New Jack City and John Wick, with the violence sitting uneasily alongside the jokes. But even that wouldn’t be so distracting if there was just more to the story than Rell wanting his cat back. There are a number of inspired moments in the film, including a sequence where a drugged-out Clarence finds himself inside a music video, and another featuring a cameo from a great comic actress playing herself in a drug deal that goes disastrously wrong, but there are too few of those and too many stock situations involving gunplay, cars and escalating confrontations.

Key and Peele (the latter co-wrote the script with one of their show’s writers, Alex Rubens) make their personal dynamic look effortless and some of the movie’s best scenes are simple exchanges between the two cousins. They also have a bona fide star in Keanu himself, who is frequently deployed for a fresh jolt of cuteness and even sports a human voice at one point that you won’t get bonus points for guessing who it belongs to. Key & Peele director Peter Atencio, behind the camera here, gets the most out of Keanu’s scenes but follows standard-issue gangsta thriller blocking elsewhere, with competence but little flair.

After a decently funny first half, however, Keanu the movie simply feels like it’s stretched too thin for its back 45. Repetitive enough to become tiresome but stopping short of being actively irritating, Keanu ultimately runs out of steam and inspiration. We know from experience that even the cutest kitty in the world gets bored with chasing the same toy over and over.

Keanu is in theaters on Friday (April 29). 

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2.5 out of 5