Key & Peele in Keanu
You should recognize the names “Key” and “Peele”, but on the chance you don’t, they are the comedy duo of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, eponymous creators and stars of the Comedy Central sketch show, Key & Peele, which ran for five seasons. Remember the East/West College Bowl? That’s them. Substitute teacher? Them. Liam Neesons? Also them. (Unfortunately if you're not in the U.S. you can't watch these videos because of Viacom rights. Sorry Canada!) Goddamn Key & Peele was good. And now their first feature film effort, Keanu, is in theaters. Does it live up to the standard set by their sketch show? Kind of.
Keanu is basically a one hundred minute cat video starring the cutest little kitten in the whole wide world, yes you are, you’re so cute, look at your little face! Every time the kitten Keanu appears on screen the whole movie derails for gratuitous beauty shots of its precious little kitten face and its tiny helpless baby cries and it’s so cute I want to die. It’s intentional, of course, as the plot is basically just that a bunch of people lose their minds over this adorable little kitten, look at it, so cute!
Peele stars as Rell, a stoner down in the dumps because his girlfriend left him, and Key stars as his uptight cousin Clarence, charged with getting in some “me time” when his wife and daughter go on a weekend getaway. Rell and Clarence are nerds who fit in better in the suburbs than they do in the gang war where they inevitably end up, which are pretty stock characters for Key and Peele. If you’re familiar with Key & Peele a lot of Keanu will feel like rehashed, watered-down sketches from that show. Show-watchers might recognize a lot of the beats in the movie as setups lifted right from their sketch work, which can break the flow of the movie.
Rell is pulled out of his funk when he discovers a kitten he names Keanu on his doorstep, and he promptly loses his mind and goes full-cat person which is totally normal when you see how f*cking cute Keanu is, oh my god so cute I want to kiss it all over and hug it forever. When Keanu is stolen Rell and Clarence pretend to be notorious hitmen in order to get him back from a drug lord, Cheddar (Method Man). It’s a very silly, very thin premise held together entirely by the comedy chops of Key and Peele and Keanu’s relentless cuteness.
The comedy in Keanu is not as sharp as Key and Peele’s sketch work, and the movie suffers a little for it. There are still plenty of jokes and the movie comes up with some big laughs, but individual scenes have a habit of going on a little too long. Written by Peele and Alex Rubens, a writer/producer on their show, Keanu definitely has the feel of an intentionally watered down introduction to Key and Peele for broader audiences, and the movie plays more like a string of sketches tied together by the world’s cutest little kitten than a fully coherent film.
But comedy movies can be a little sloppy and get away with it, as long as they’re generating laughter. Keanu rides the line—if you don’t like cat videos, you probably won’t get much out of it. The movie, directed by yet another Key & Peele alum, Peter Atencio, is at its best during action scenes, or any time the camera cuts to Keanu because oh my god it’s such a precious little kitty! The cuts to the cat reaction shots are fantastic, and there’s a car chase at the end that pretty well makes up for any weak spots beforehand.
The action stuff works so well because they’re directly referencing other film styles, such as an opening scene straight out of a Michael Bay movie, or a torture-gone-wrong bit that plays like farcical Coen Brothers. Had the story parts of the movie borrowed from other movies in a similar way, Keanu would hold together a bit better. Key and Peele are legit film buffs, so they have the grounding to pull off scatological parody like that.
Keanu is really only going to work for pre-existing fans of Key and Peele who will get enough of the in-jokes to stay with the movie in between the really good stuff, or anyone who enjoys videos of adorable kittens running to and fro and giving sweet little kitten kisses. For anyone else it’s probably going to come off as a supremely silly movie that goes on too long. Now, excuse me while I go hug my cat until she scratches me.
Attached - Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key at the LA premiere of Keanu at the end of April.