Movie Review: “Keanu” has the potential to become a cult classic thanks to a little kitten
A Key and Peele movie always seemed like a foregone conclusion. On their self-titled and recently defunct Comedy Central sketch series, Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele regularly mocked cinematic conventions. But even as they skewered the twist in “The Usual Suspects” or turned a simple aerobics championship into a Michael Haneke-esque psychodrama, there was still a sense of reverence for their source material.
Lacking the static quality of most sketch comedy shows, the segments on “Key & Peele” were more than indifferently filmed bits, they were mini-movies. At its heart, “Keanu” is a “Key & Peele” sketch; an expanded, pricier version of one of those mini-movies. But even though it looks better and has enough money behind it to give us the slo-mo, John Woo inspired fight scene that opens the movie, it’s still carrying the same amount of jokes you’d find in one of their 5-minute sketches. Luckily, the chemistry between Key and Peele as well as their grasp of straight faced absurdity elevates “Keanu” above its two-joke premise.
Shortly after an aimless artist, Rell, experiences a devastating break-up, the world’s cutest kitten arrives on his door step. Almost immediately, the kitten –which Rell dubs Keanu -takes the place of his absentee girlfriend.
Rell’s odd attachment to the feline grows more intense until he’s using the cat as a model in a calendar that adorably recreates the most violent moments in film history. However, when Rell’s uptight cousin Clarence (Key) convinces him to spend a night away from his kitten, Keanu is kidnapped by a street gang called the 17th Street Blips (a gang comprised of people too crazy to join the Bloods or Crips). Determined to get the love of his life back, Rell convinces Clarence to help him infiltrate the gang by posing as drug dealers even though Rell and Clarence are the kind of oblivious nerds who think they’re tough simply because of where they lived when they were beaten up as teenagers.
There are basically two jokes in “Keanu” but both are equally inspired in their own way. The main running gag revolving around the otherworldly cuteness of Keanu and how it manages to reduce even the most hardened, dangerous criminal into a pile of mush, never gets old. No matter how many times we see someone like Method Man (playing a gang leader named Cheddar) doting over the kitten with the attentiveness of an overprotective mother. Additionally, Key and Peele breathe new life into the stale tropes of the mistaken identity sub-genre.
Clarence and Rell’s idea of a drug lord seems to be something they gleaned after half-watching an episode of “The Wire.” Going by the names of Tectonic and Shark Tank, Clarence and Rell’s hardened criminals are constantly trying to mask their very obvious panic attacks as they growl out bizarre tough guy dialogue like “Hell’s bells, hold on to your cells.”
Not everything works in “Keanu.” A payoff involving Clarence’s obsession with George Michael follows the lazy recognition-equals-comedy formula preferred by Seth McFarlane. Similarly, the extended Anna Faris cameo seems to exist to pad out the already overlong 100-minute running time.
“Keanu” is hit or miss but then, most comedies are. Besides, when it does hit you’ll get a scene in which a gangbanger admits he was stabbed for stealing a Ring Pop or Luis Guzman as an accommodating kingpin or even the lovably moronic way the film explains away its most glaring plot hole. Fun, funny and eminently rewatchable, “Keanu” isn’t just a promising start for the film careers of Key and Peele, it’s also a future cult classic in the making.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Method Man
Director: Peter Atencio
Weekender Rating: WWWW
Length: 100 minutes