Keanu Directed by Peter Atencio
Published Apr 28, 2016Brilliant comedy duo Key and Peele take the best of what they've brought to their innovative sketch comedy show and bring it to the big screen with cat caper Keanu. And while their comic sensibilities are intact and they've made a very funny movie, the transition to the big screen isn't without its growing pains.
Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele can bring a character to life in seconds; it's a skill they've honed over many years first on Mad TV and then via Key & Peele. So in the time it takes Clarence Goobril (Key) to walk from his sensible family automobile in his button-down shirt, khakis and deck shoes while singing George Michael to himself to his friend Rell's front door, he's established Goobril as a pleasant suburban husband whose closest association to "street" is Main Street. Rell (Peele) is a self-medicating pothead depressed over the end of a relationship until a tiny kitten shows up on his doorstep.
When thugs targeting a drug dealing neighbour hit Rell's place instead, kitten Keanu gets catnapped; the neighbour, Hulka (dreadlocked Will Forte) points them to the 18th Street Blips, who have Keanu. Once Rell and Clarence head to the Blips strip club headquarters and they realize their dealing with some hardcore gangsters, they have to stash their white-wine-spritzer-drinking ways, pull out the n-word and negotiate with Cheddar (Method Man), the head of the Blips, to return their pet. (Oddly, Method Man played a character named Cheese on The Wire.)
Drawing from their own biracial backgrounds, Key and Peele have made the cultural differences between black and white — and their own straddling of that line — the foundational piece for their comedy and for the premise of Keanu. Cheddar mistakes the pair for a couple of anonymous gangsters who've been terrorizing locals recently and recruits them for an upcoming job; they respond by alternately playing tough guy and teaching the Blips about the paternal themes of "Father Figure" and the big-chorus joys of "Freedom 90." They get involved in some drug dealing business that involves gunplay and tiny Keanu skittering in slow-mo amongst the action.
George Michael obsession aside, the ways Keanu fails are precisely because of Key and Peele's adeptness at sketch comedy. Because they can outline a character in mere seconds — out of necessity in four minutes — they struggle to add real depth to both their own characters and the supporting Blips. (Peele co-wrote the script with Alex Rubens, a Key & Peele staff writer/producer.) The married suburban signifiers for Clarence are easier (although his wife, Nia Long, is criminally underused), but Rell is left a blank page. Similarly, the various Blips are revealed to be potentially more than just thugs, but so broadly that very little of it sticks, even Rell's relationship with Cheddar's right hand, Hi-C (the excellent Tiffany Haddish from The Carmichael Show).
There may not be enough Keanu (the cat) in Keanu (the movie), but it's a cat — what are they going to be able to train it to do? More disappointing is that there isn't enough movie in Keanu, the movie — what's there is a good seven pounds of movie they've got rattling around in a ten pound bag. Keanu's cute and Key and Peele are awesome and super talented, but they didn't quite land the big screen transition.