Key & Peele Hit the Big Screen in "Keanu"
Pet owners sometimes show they will do anything for their animal companions. The comedy Keanu shows one of those extremes. Following a shootout between the Allentown Boys and a rival drug operation, a kitten who was named Iglesias makes his way to the home of a man named Rell Williams (Jordan Peele), who's just lost his girlfriend. Rell calls the kitten Keanu and starts to pamper his new feline companion. Rell's married friend Clarence Goobril (Keegan-Michael Key), hiding his joy over the end of Rell's relationship, comes to console his friend. Clarence has the weekend to himself, since his wife Hannah (Nia Long) and daughter Belle (Jordyn A. Davis) have left town with family friends. The friends spend the evening at the movies, only to return to find the front door open and Keanu missing. Clarence discovers Keanu's collar and name tag.
The pair go to Rell's next door neighbor Hulka (Will Forte), who sells pot to Rell. He thinks that the Blips gang, whose name combines the Bloods and the Crips, had come looking for him, and instead gone to the wrong house. When Clarence and Rell press Hulka for details about where to find the Blips, Hulka reluctantly tells the pair the gang have their headquarters at a club called Hot Party Vixens. They stick out like a sore thumb, but their hard talking convinces gang member Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish) to take them to gang leader Cheddar (Method Man). Cheddar does indeed have the kitten, which he has named New Jack. Mistaking them for the Allentown Boys (also played by Key and Peele), Cheddar wants them to show some of the skill they used to take care of their rival. In exchange, Clarence and Rell ask for New Jack as pay. They're assigned to sell a new drug concoction with an expletive in its name. They go with Hi-C and other members to the home of Anna Faris (as herself) to sell the new drug, but things go wrong. Though the mission succeeds, Cheddar changes the deal, and Clarence and Rell learn that Bacon Diaz (Luis Guzman), a relative of Keanu's original owner, also wants Keanu. The Allentown Boys also want to deal with Clarence and Rell.
It is sometimes hard for sketch players to take their act to the big screen, as comic duds like The Ladies Man, Superstar, and Going Berserk prove. Keanu is definitely not a dud, but it is an uneven cinematic effort from a duo whose credits include MADtv and their own Comedy Central sketch show. Key & Peele deliver laughs from this ridiculous situation, such as putting Cheddar's crew through a team-building exercise, or bonding with them over George Michael songs. However, the violence, which includes numerous killings, often gives Keanu too serious of a spin. The script came from Peele and Alex Rubens, who wrote on the Key & Peele TV series. While I think Keanu was intended to send up two genres, they could have toned down the action portion significantly. With its focus on jokes more than story, viewers will wonder why gangs would expend so much effort on one small animal and the human he has found. The direction comes from Peter Atencio, who directed every episode of Key & Peele, but has only directed for the big screen once before, in the poorly received 2010 film The Rig. I can't opine about The Rig myself, but Keanu shows Atencio is more at home on the small screen, as this feature has many slow spots.
The big appeal of Keanu is its stars. There's never a moment where I didn't want Clarence and Rell to fail in their seemingly impossible quest to rescue the kitten. Key, as Clarence, convinces Cheddar's men that the best way to be inconspicuous in their activities is to not look too obvious. When they go on the drug deal, they use Clarence's SUV. Peele, as Rell, has to overcome his sense of loss and put on a tough face. He also wonders how someone like Hi-C managed to reach a high rank in a gang where she's the only female member. Forte, Guzman, and Faris also manage to get laughs in their brief appearances. Keanu Reeves makes a cameo voice appearance, sounding like Neo from The Matrix as the titular feline in a hallucinogenic dream sequence involving Clarence and the kitten.
Keanu brings a TV comedy duo to the feature realm for the first time, and they are not bad. The pair rise above the film's weak elements to deliver laughs in a comedy that sometimes becomes too serious for its own good. The movie makes me wish these two funny men eventually find more favorable ways to translate their TV act for the movies. Mixing two divergent film styles is interesting, but Keanu often strays from the movie it was meant to be. It has a tendency to wander, just as the title character had to do. On the big screen, Key and Peele, just like Keanu, have to find the right home.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Keanu 2.5 stars. Here, kitty!