Friends hatch a plot to retrieve a stolen kitten by posing as drug dealers for a street gang.
Director: Peter Atencio
Starring: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Method Man, Will Forte, Jason Mitchell, Luis Guzman, Nia Long, Rob Huebel
Rated: PG (some sequences of scary action and peril)
By Cole Schneider
Comic sensations Key and Peele have invaded the cinema with “Keanu”. The story follows the pair of biracial suburban hipsters posing as violent drug dealers in order to retrieve a stolen pet cat from a gang. That McGuffin allows the rest of the film to play like a series of sketch comedy bits, which is certainly Key and Peele’s wheelhouse. And indeed, most of these bits draw laughter; some of them draw lots of laugh.
Yet the trouble with this popular structure (think about all those great SNL skits turned into mediocre movies) is that the comedy never builds on itself, gliding from one joke to another without any momentum. Also typically missing in these films is any semblance of emotional thrust. With such a heightened reality coupled alongside impenetrable characters our experience watching the film is limited to a steady stream of <set-up> wait, <joke> laugh, <set-up> wait, <joke> laugh, repeat for 90 minutes. It could be worse—we’ve all seen movies with a repetition of <set-up> wait, <joke> don’t laugh.
The film, like the majority of their skits, is about identity politics, aggressively pushing back at racial stereotypes. Key looks black, but listens to George Michael instead of 2Pac. His relaxed exterior belies a pent-up rage. Peele is yet darker skinned, but seems to prefer Liam Neeson over Denzel Washington. His constant anger belies an underneath sensibility. While it lacks much, “Keanu” does a surprisingly good job of purposing cliché and trope. By the end they’re all checked off but in a thematically satisfying way. Still, it’s difficult to recommend “Keanu” when you can go on YouTube anytime and watch their (much better) skits.
2.5 out of 5 Stars
By Matt Greene
Comedy is subjective. Trying to explain why something does or doesn’t make you laugh is like trying to explain why you think certain foods are delicious; how do you make someone experience your experience? For example, the sketch show “Key & Peele”, while often a smart satire on race and sex, was simply and inexplicably hilarious to me.
On the other hand, Keanu, a film created and starring the same dudes, has (arguably) nowhere near the laughs. Despite some all-in comedic performances from two of the most talented guys around, it simply isn’t very funny.
Through a series of unfortunate events, two mild-mannered men go looking for a kitten and find themselves in the midst of a war between competing drug gangs. Key and Peele display the same comedy-in-sync-ness they became famous for, and they deserve a vehicle much better than this to display their skill.
Unfortunately the movie itself never quite finds its balance. It’s an absurdist comedy that feels both too absurd and not absurd enough. The plot is shoddy at best, and the shallow levels of character give way to whatever joke seems to be funniest at that moment.
None of that would matter, of course, if I just found the movie more consistently funny. Not that it’s devoid LOL moments; Key and Peele both have a knack for putting a twist on a line or a facial expression to give it an added layer of wit (i.e. how they act when they think they’re about to be killed). Unfortunately, they have created such anticipation through years of brilliant TV work, anything less than wall-to-wall guffaws can be a disappointment.
Rating: 2 stars