Buckle-up and get ready for the funniest cat-gangster-comedy you’ve ever seen. OK, so that is quite the narrow genre, but it’s as original and as loony as it sounds. Keanu (opening today) is the first feature-film from comedy-duo Key & Peele (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), and its a massive success: If you love Key & Peele, you will love Keanu, but even if you have never heard of them…do you not like kittens, you horrible beast?
When we meet Rell (Peele), he is a down-and-out loser with nothing to live for, after his girlfriend has just dumped him. His best friend, the overly-energetic Clarence (Key) is concerned and wants to cheer his friend up, but Rell has already found himself a saving grace: A cute little kitten, that he calls Keanu (“it means cool breeze or something like that in Hawaiian,” he tells us) has shown up on his doorstep. Rell is enamored with the little kitty (you will be too) and does everything with him. But this cat has a past. Once a pet to a serious Latino gangster, Keanu is mixed up in some crazy stuff. Mistakenly breaking into Rell’s house (they meant to break in to his neighbor’s house, the drug-dealer Hulka (Will Forte)), a street gang led by a dude named Cheddar (Method Man) comes across Keanu and steals him. Rell and Clarence go on a mission to recover their new feline friend, needing to go “undercover” into the gang-world in order to do so.
But Rell and Clarence are not meant for the streets. With the infamous “Allentown Brothers” due to visit Cheddar any day now, Rell and Clarence assume their identities, and because they are so respected, they are thrust into leadership roles within Cheddar’s gang. Bud (Jason Mitchell), Trunk (Darrell Britt-Gibson) and a love interest for Rell, Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish) round out the group, and before long the boys are doing drugs with Anna Faris (playing herself) and teaching the gang-bangers the important influences of George Michael (George Michael, and his music, play a major role in the film).
Key & Peele of course, just ended their successful Comedy Central TV show this past year, after five hilarious seasons. They had a knack for taking unflinching, satirical looks at racial stereotypes and turning them on their head. For Keanu, it was a great idea to bring director Peter Atencio aboard, who directed nearly every episode of their TV show. He shows a confidence and effective use of comedic timing, whether it be with audio cues or quick cuts. But mainly, he allows Key & Peele to just do what they do: Be funny. Fans of the show will be happy that there is even a “car scene” between the two in this film, like the kind that were laced through all of their TV episodes. That’s a compliment, that these guys can just be funny without even having to do anything but chat to one another.
Comedies should ultimately be judged by how funny they are, and Keanu is by far the funniest film of the year. The “laughs-per-minute” ratio is extremely high, as are many of the characters we meet in the film. Right from the start, a comedic pace is created and it never seems to fall out-of-step. It’s ridiculous, dumb, crazy and silly, but it knows what it is. And damn, there are some cute moments with Keanu the cat, a scene-stealer in every sense of the word. I’ve said before that there are “smart-dumb” comedies and their are “dumb-dumb” comedies. Keanu (and Key & Peele’s brand in general) is a dumb comedy for smart people.
Key & Peele are very popular, but they still don’t seem to get the credit that they deserve for what they are: One of the best comedy duos maybe ever. It may be early to put them in league with Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Lewis & Martin, but I’ll start the comparisons now. None of those, however, had as much to say as Key & Peele. But as funny and as successful as Keanu is, I hope that they don’t go the route of “Keanu 2.” I’d much rather see them take on new characters, new satirical material, and expand their comedic horizons. Both Key & Peele are talented enough to do anything, each bringing their own style of eccentric humor that meshes up perfectly when together…and as their TV show showed us, they work best when not limited by one particular idea.
Go see Keanu: It’s a sure-thing if you’re a Key & Peele fan and it will be an amazing discovery for those not familiar.
Run Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, Darrell Brit-Gibson, Jamar Malachi Neighbors, Jason Mitchell, Rob Huebel, Will Forte, Luis Guzman
Directed by Peter Atencio (The Rig, Key & Peele TV Show – 54 Episodes)
Opens locally on Friday, April 29, 2016 (check for show times).