The hugely popular Comedy Central skit team of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (aka Key & Peele) triumphantly make the transition from television sketch comedy to big screen success with Keanu, a film that will have you doubled over with laughter when youíre not full-on aflush with kitten cuteness overload.
The duo avoid the typical trap that befalls so many looking to jump the gap from sketch comedy to full-length feature film by avoiding the feeling that their movie is a 5-minute sketch that goes on for 90 minutes too long. Reference the long list of failed SNL-inspired films on how not to do it, but director Peter Atencio knows his money is in the chemistry of his two fast-talking stars, so he points the camera at them and, for the most part, steps out of the way. The result is a riotously funny riff on buddy action movies with shades of 48 Hours and New Jack City, and a whole bunch of the most adorable kitten screen time youíve ever seen.
Key and Peele are cousins Rell and Clarence who live in the city -- the suburbs, actually -- but are far from streetwise. Crushed by a recent breakup, stoner artist Rell finds a new lease on life in the form of an orphaned tiny tabby that makes its way to his front door. He names the cat Keanu and introduces the furry feline to his cousin Clarence, who does corporate team-building exercises for a living and is looking forward to the upcoming weekend away from his wife.
A series of absurd events -- including the catnapping of Keanu -- lead the pair to a seedy strip club owned by a local gangster named Cheddar (Method Man, who played Cheese in TVís The Wire. Get it?). They discover this guy is Keanuís catnapper, who now has the kitty dressed in do-rags and gold chains. For suburbanites Clarence and Rell, the mission is simply to get Keanu back and get on with their lives, but the stakes are raised when they find themselves inadvertently involved in Cheddarís crime ring with a bunch of thugs who call themselves the Blips -- made from the outcasts of the Bloods and the Crips.
Pell and co-writer Alex Rubenís script is essentially a one-noter with a single gimmick that works far longer than it ever should: two suburban black guys, plunged into the world of the gangbangers, are forced to put on African-American stereotypes in order to survive in the unfamiliar underworld.
Key and Peeleís humor has always come from the exploration of culture and deals with adjusting to the culture one is in, in the moment. Thatís exactly what they do with Keanu. Their ability to turn on a dime by changing speech, posture, and demeanor is on full display as these urbane men of color living in suburbia quickly become urban African Americans in the inner city.
Despite the serious-minded topic at hand, none of it is to be taken too seriously in Keanu. Itís too much of a self-parody for that. No stereotypes are untouchable, neither are any of Hollywoodís action films or action stars. They are all targets here, and we get the sense that everyone who gets poked by the parody stick would have it no other way. Everyone is having fun and it shows. Pay particularly close attention and you might recognize the voice of a star whose uncredited appearance was expected by most, but certainly not to the great effect it found.
Though the idea of adding the filmís heart (its ďawwwĒ moment, if you will) in the form of a tiny tabby came about late in the development process, itís a stroke of pure genius. The film isnít about a cat, in fact the titular tabby is more of a McGuffin than anything, but I know of at least one person who was enticed by the endearing posters that feature the furry felineís mug. Keanu is always a better film when the cute little kitten is on the screen.
Itís important to know that Keanu is well-deserving of its hard R rating and should only be seen by adults. Letís not have any small children unexpectedly losing their innocence by what they thought was a follow-up to Puss in Boots.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "R" for violence, language throughout, drug use and sexuality/nudity.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.